Suppose an individual is promoted to the rank of captain in the army and his first assignment as a commanding officer is at a remote outpost located in eastern Afghanistan. He is responsible for thirty-two soldiers (four officers and twenty-eight enlisted men).
As commander of the outpost, one of his first concerns is guard duty. Knowing the enemy prefers to attack under the cover of darkness, the captain decides to assign half of the troops for night duty. Two officers will serve in alternating shifts as officer of the night and fourteen enlisted soldiers will serve as guards in two hour shifts.
Each night, an officer will visit a bunker in random order hourly to ensure that each guard is alert and responsive. There is no room for negligence or failure, so the captain wants to do everything possible to ensure the survival of his soldiers, as well as the outpost.
Of course, his decisions about guard duty will impact the unit’s daily activities because each morning, only half of the troops will be available to go out and engage the enemy (the officers and guards will be sleeping until noon). Furthermore, if there is enemy fire or contact during the night, no one in the outpost will get any sleep.
While the routine described in this scenario can be followed for a short time, it would be difficult to sustain for several weeks. The dilemma is twofold: Fatigue and boredom. If fewer people are assigned to guard duty, each person will have to serve longer shifts, and as a result, extended hours lead to fatigue and carelessness.
When a soldier becomes careless, he lets down his guard. On the other hand, if the captain assigns more people to guard duty, this will reduce their effectiveness during daylight hours to go out and engage the enemy. Thus, managing human limitations at an outpost in hostile territory is not an easy task. Everyone involved with warfare knows there is an enemy within (human limitations) and an enemy without.
This outpost scenario in hostile territory has an interesting parallel when compared with the church of Christ. For the past 2,000 years, the church has tried to overcome the enemy, but the devil has done everything possible to destroy the outpost and the soldiers associated with it.
As Captain of the Host, Jesus has appointed a number of people to serve as officers of the night, which include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11) Since the promise of Christ’s return was given a long time ago, some of the officers have become drowsy and have let their guard down. Even worse, other officers have become careless and they have abandoned their duty altogether. We must admit with great sadness that many people are not looking into the Bible with great interest.
The passage of time indicates the continuation of time—tomorrow will be like today—so, eat, drink, and be merry! Christians are asleep. The devil has prepared well for his final assault on the church. This assault will be brutal and it will last 42 months (Revelation 13:5), but most Christians are totally unaware of the ambush that lies “just around the bend.”
The Lord knows “this slippery slope” is inescapable. There is decline and degeneracy with everything connected to fallen man. Ancient Israel could not avoid “the slippery slope.” Shortly before the Babylonian captivity, notice what God said about His priests: “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.” (Isaiah 56:10–11)
One more illustration should be made before we consider the parable of the ten virgins. Have you ever noticed that when you put on sunglasses that you don’t notice the tint in the glass after a few minutes? The lenses can be pink, orange, blue, or green, but after a few minutes everything looks natural because our brain compensates for the tint. The same phenomenon occurs with odors. A house or workplace can have a distinct odor, but after a few minutes the smell is not detectable because our brain says the smell is familiar or normal.
Our ears can also deceive us. For example, when I was a teenager we moved into a house that was located about 100 feet from the train tracks and after a few disturbing nights, I never heard another train go by—day or night. Familiarization is so powerful that our eyes, ears, and nose can be fooled! This behavior raises the question: Are we truly awake to what is going on around us or have we become so conditioned by an endless stream of bad news that nothing unsettles us any more?
These illustrations about guard duty (staying awake) and familiarization (being conditioned to ignore the obvious) are important to this study because they are the unidentified culprits found in a parable told by Jesus. Here’s the story:
One day, Jesus said to His disciples, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37–39)
Even though you have read this text many times, you may not realize that this passage actually describes the experience of unbelievers. However, Jesus also had a few choice words for believers! He described it this way:
“At that time [Jesus is still talking about His return] the kingdom of heaven [the corporate body of believers] will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:1–13, insertions mine)
Six Points to Ponder:
1. The virgins believed the bridegroom was coming and they went out to meet him.
2. Fatigue overtook them and all of them went to sleep!
3. When awakened, it became clear as to who was wise and who was foolish.
4. The wise could not help the foolish.
5. The foolish were not permitted into the banquet.
6. All ten of them were virgins.
What Does the Parable Mean?
The ten virgins represent the kingdom of Heaven, which is the corporate body of Christ or Christianity as a whole. (The parable does not indicate that every Christian is asleep.) The church of Christ has been watching and waiting for 2,000 years for Christ’s return, but the fulfillment of His promise has not come to pass. Prophetic fatigue has overtaken His people. Today, there is more contempt than genuine interest for the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation among Christians! “Jesus is coming soon” has been said so many times that no one actually anticipates it. (This is the problem with familiarization.)
At midnight (when the corporate body of believers is sound asleep) there will be a sudden awakening. Without warning, the groomsmen (the 144,000) will appear and cry out, “Here’s the Bridegroom.” This awakening will be caused by the casting down of the censer (Revelation 8:3–5) and the first four trumpet-judgments that follow.
The destruction of thousands of cities and 1.75 billion people will be startling and will awaken Christendom to the imminent return of Jesus. The awakening will prove to be cataclysmic. When God’s judgments begin, the wise virgins will quickly awake. They will understand and embrace the fulfillment of God’s Word. The foolish virgins will become bitter and agitated. The wrath of God and the persecution that follows will overwhelm them. This is not what they expected and it certainly is not what their church believes or what they were taught.
The foolish will visit with their spiritual friends, but the wise virgins will not be able to help them. Their confusion and disappointment will be too great. The wise will suggest that the foolish seek out their pastors and religious leaders, since the pastors and religious leaders were the source of their confusion.
Ultimately, the foolish will not be able to overcome their bitterness, agitation, or confusion. As the parable reveals, the sad truth is that all along, Jesus never knew the foolish virgins. The foolish virgins seemed to be religious, but they were not honestly open to the Holy Spirit or were they students of His Word. As Jesus once said to the Pharisees, a whitewashed tomb is nothing more than the residence of a dead man. (Matthew 23:27)
Remember, the underlying problem with the ten virgins is fatigue and familiarization. Christians have heard thousands of times that Jesus is coming soon. After 2,000 years, “soon” has lost its meaning and many people have thrown in the prophetic towel and moved into forms of worship that have little redeeming value. There should be emotional appeal in worship, but our worship must be based on “hearing the Word” and our understanding of God must be built squarely on the Rock of the Ages.
Many Christians do not give enough thought to the prophecies. They reason that tomorrow will be much like today. One day, this assumption will prove false. There are two tomorrows. There is the tomorrow—that segment of time—that occurs before the censer is thrown down. The second tomorrow occurs when the censer is thrown down causing events unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Keeping these tomorrows balanced is not easy, which brings us back to the dilemma facing the army captain. If we place too much emphasis on protecting the outpost, how can we go out and engage the enemy? If we place too much emphasis on engaging the enemy, who can stay awake during the night?
Familiarization is a deceptive process. We must search our hearts and seriously ask ourselves if we have become conditioned to the point that we cannot see the signs (the prophetic samples) of Christ’s return. Are we trusting our eyes, ears, and nose when we should be searching God’s Word? Even if we do not try to interpret the parable of the ten virgins, the message is clear. The wise carried extra oil with them. They went to sleep, but it did not take very long to get prepared when they were awakened.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come . . . . So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42, 44)
PS: Please fast and pray with me that our camp meeting experience in July will be blessed with the outpouring of Holy Spirit power!