Matthew 25; (spring AD 30, Tuesday of Passion Week)
When Jesus spoke of the need to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (v.13, ref also 24:44 etc.) it’s not because we need to be in a certain posture. There is no obligation to be in the middle of some overtly religious activity when Jesus comes again. It’s not even that if we’re caught off-guard saying a rude word, suddenly and magically we forfeit our relationship with God.
Rather, in the previous passage Jesus had pointed out that those in rebellion against God will be surprised at his coming – not just the timing of it but that it is happening at all. The emphasis in Jesus’ comments about the Second Coming focused on the unexpected nature of it, even giving the illustration of a burglary to point out the extent to which no-one will know it’s going to happen until it happens.
The illustration here of women who didn’t have sufficient oil to keep the lamps lit for the bridal procession isn’t of people failing to perform complicated rituals, or making intellectual errors. In the parable, they had been told something was going to happen and chose to be in a state of non-readiness. Then as now, there is no lack of information, no complicated ritual, no intellectual gymnastics required. Jesus was clear: I am coming again and you have until then to be right with God.
God had given the Jews everything they needed for salvation (‘bags of gold’ – v.14-30) but many of them simply said no, or even opposed Jesus. God has given us, too, all the ‘bags of gold’ we need to live in a way that glorifies him, simply by repenting and turning to him.
Note in verses 37-39 an explicit confirmation that we do not get to heaven by performing good works, but that while we are on our way to heaven good works are what we naturally do. Christians are described as not even knowing what Jesus was referring to when he commended their good works – it was just how they lived. Likewise verses 41-45 when talking to those who were hell-bound, some who wanted nothing to God claimed to be waiting for instructions. In fact, nobody who wants to do good will continue to do bad and claim innocence, but will rather look for God, so the excuse in the parable is transparently deceitful.
You and I are, fundamentally, either rebels or disciples.
One thing or the other.
With God or without God.
Headed for an eternity in heaven or an eternity in hell.