The Lord of the Rings trilogy finished up with The Return of the King in 2003. The final movie in the series was heralded as the best of the set, winning 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Peter Jackson. The movie was highly anticipated. I remember as a young kid who had just finished reading through the series how excited I was to see the last movie in the series. In my astounding 12-year old wisdom, I thought Mr. Jackson had done an admirable job turning the epic novels into epic movies. And of course I wasn’t the only one. If my memory serves me correctly, my mom and I stood in line for at least 15 minutes to get into the theater (which feels like 5 hours to a 12-year old nerd like me). Everyone in America it seemed was eagerly awaiting the Return of the King.
Now to make the cheesy transition that’s been evident since you read the title:
Are we as Christians prepared for the return of our King? Jesus challenges His followers in Matthew 25, right after He’s discussed the actual event of His coming back, to see and ensure that they are doing what is befitting a disciple of Christ waiting on His return.
One of the greatest truths surrounding God’s Word is that it continues to speak to, encourage and challenge us today. As I read Jesus’ words about being prepared for His return and what the life of the disciple should look like in Matt. 25, I was challenged to look into my life and see if I was bearing this fruit, and what steps I can take to continue to bear it. I was brought to repentance over wasting time, over being too Neal-centered instead of being God-centered, and looking out for me instead of the least of these. And I’m brought to a humble admission that I know that I want to honor God by obeying His commands found here, but I’m not entirely sure how exactly it looks in my life. But I know who does. And I’m asking Him to show me, to change me, and to help me move forward in this. So what exactly is it that God is saying, not just to me, but to all believers, in Matt. 25? Let’s look.
The chapter is split into two parables and one prophecy (a parable is an earthly story with heavenly meaning). The first deals with ten virgins. In case there’s any misunderstanding, Jesus is not condoning polygamy here. He’s also not saying that there is any kind of sexual relationship between Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (the virgins). The virgins represent the Church because as sex is the consummation of marriage, so the return of Christ is the consummation of the kingdom and Christ’s marriage to the church (again, sans sex). Sex, as wonderful a gift as it is, is a foretaste of the joy we will have when Christ returns for His Bride. Lord, let us anticipate this with faith and joy!
So, with that important background information, let’s keep going. The virgins go to meet the bridegroom at night, to go to his home for a wedding feast, a celebration. But five of them don’t bring enough oil for the journey, and they all (even the wise ones) fall asleep due to the groom’s delay. But when the call for the virgins to rise and meet the bridegroom comes, those who have oil are prepared, they get up, and they go to their husband. And when the five who forgot oil ask the five who brought it, they’re told to go buy some. In the process, the groom comes back, the five wise virgins go to the feast, and the other five, well…”Afterward, the other virgins came also, syaing, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Jesus doesn’t know them. They haven’t lost their place at the table. They haven’t simply shown up late. Jesus never knew them. To put that in layman’s terms, these women were never saved in the first place. In Matt. 7:21, another one of those terrifying verses, Jesus says to the men boasting in their works, “Depart from me, I NEVER knew you.” He never knew them. Ever.
So the point we need to grab first here is that perseverance, and sticking with Jesus, is necessary for salvation. No, it doesn’t bring justification. But if you are truly justified, you will persevere. If you do not persevere, you do not lose your salvation–it is proven that you never had it in the first place. And what kept those women from persevering? They didn’t bring enough oil! They forgot the most important thing! That’s the equivalent of me going out to eat and forgetting my wallet, or going to the car without my keys. First-century lamps don’t run without oil!
The lesson for us, or better put, the challenge for us: Have we “counted the cost” of following Christ? Are we ensuring that there is nothing we need to add or take away to or from our lives to help us obey Christ until the end? The oil here is most likely referring to continuing in the Spirit and/or faith in Christ. And to be sure, our foundation for perseverance should be faith in the Lord who makes promises like Phil. 1:6, and in the work of the Spirit who is able to make us holy. But we join God in His work, and the challenge from this first parable is this: Is there anything I need to add to or take away from my life to ensure that I will be faithful to obey and walk with Jesus until the end, whether in my death or His return?
The second parable is the parable of the talents. The master gives three servants three different amounts of money. To one, he gives five talents; to another, two; and to another, one talent. The first two both make a return on the investment, while the other buries it and does nothing with it. As in the first parable, this servant is thrown in hell. Why? Because his attitude betrayed his false profession of faith. Make no mistake about it: While your works do not in any way justify you, the Bible is clear that your actions/works back up your claim to be justified.
The servant was given a gift by his master, and he was selfish and prideful. He wanted it for himself instead of giving glory to his master. He was lazy, afraid of the man he thought “harsh, reaping where (he) did not sow, and gathering where (he) scattered no seed.” There was a misperception of the master. How can our misperceptions of Jesus alter our faithfulness to Him? If we think Him the gracious, yet firm Savior and Lord that He is, we will trust and obey. If we think Him harsh, we will not. May God grant us the faith and the eyes to see and embrace Jesus as He is. And may we reject the laziness of this man, afraid to take God’s gifts and go out into the world and do something for His glory with them.
The challenge: How can we use our gifts (spiritual, financial, jobs, etc.) to advance God’s kingdom? How can we use all that God has given us to point people to Christ for salvation and to worship God for all that He is?
The last section of Matt. 25 is Christ’s prophecy concerning final judgment. There will be people that inherit the kingdom, and people that inherit hell, and Christ Himself will separate them. To one group, Christ says “Come in to the kingdom,” lauding their caring for the least of these, reckoning it as service to Him directly. They, surprised that Jesus says they served Him, ask when they saw Him in need, and He responds by saying, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” And to the group that failed to look after the least of these, He says, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” And again, they go to hell.
In this context, Jesus is speaking of caring for the least of these within the Church. However, we know that God’s command is that we care for the least of these outside the church as well. But there’s a special kind of love for the Church belonging to the Christian. And this is an indicator of salvation. Scripture is clear: You cannot claim to be a Christian, under the Lordship of Christ, trusting His salvation, and disregard or hate the church. You cannot. Jesus has left no room for it. If you do not love God’s people, you do not love God. If you do not support the mission of the Church (so long as the mission of the Church has remained biblical), you do not support the mission of God. So great is the union between Christ and His Bride that hatred of her is hatred of Him. And love for her is love for Him.
The challenge: How can we utilize our time/gifts/etc. to care for the least of these, especially in the church, and outside the church as well?
These are hard challenges. My prayer is that you are already either doing these things, or you, like me, see some fruit of this, but a need to repent and move toward this in your life. Our King is coming back. This is what He has commanded we do as we wait: do whatever is necessary to follow Him fully, use all that He’s given us for His glory, and care for the least of these.
And, as I admitted before, I’m not completely sure what that looks like in my life. I have ideas. But I also have a Hebrew midterm on Saturday, and not a lot of uninterrupted time to get these thoughts down and think through it. So my prayer/plan is that God would not let me waste these next few days, that He would show me what I can do immediately to start doing this, and then on Monday, when I get several hours of uninterrupted free time, that God would show me, through prayer, through worship, through His Word, how I can do these things in my life as I wait to see my Savior’s face.
How about you? Perhaps you read this right after it’s posted, and you have a day off tomorrow. Fast. Seek God’s Word, seek His will and ask how these things can be done in your life, for your joy and holiness, and for God’s glory. I encourage anyone to join me Monday as I take a break from food/TV/Internet/phones to hear from God about this. And I encourage you to join me in trusting Christ as Savior and Lord, and looking forward to seeing His face and being with Him for all eternity, if you have never done this. This is the first, and most important step, to honoring and obeying God in Matt. 25.
Let’s do this, Church.
Lord, may you show us how we can commit more fully to obedience and your glory in our lives. May we seek to use all that you have given us for your glory, that you would be worshiped for all that you are. Lord, help us persevere in faith, continuing to rely on what you’ve done for us, trusting you as Lord to finish what you started, and as we wait for your return, may we love the least of these, especially in our own family. May we rejoice at your coming, as salvation is finished, as we leave our sinful flesh behind, as we come to complete and eternal joy in you. May all of these things be done for our joy, for our holiness, and for your glory.