How to Live on 24 Hours a Day
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: To live fully in the Kingdom of God,
we must be ready for the King to return today
In the Middle Ages, people had no concept of time as we experience and measure it. Mechanical clocks were not available to the vast majority of people. Most did not know what year it was, or even what century they lived in. If only we were so lucky.
Campbell’s Soup has discovered that people will not use microwave meals if they take longer than six minutes to prepare. McDonald’s reports that their typical customer spends seven minutes eating one of their meals.
We are busy people. No wonder: every day in America,
•the Smithsonian adds 2,500 items to its collections
•we purchase 45,000 new cars and trucks, and wreck 87,000
•20,000 people write a letter to the president
•dogs bite 11,000 citizens, including 20 mail carriers
•we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 17 million miles in an effort to burn it all off.
Time is our most precious commodity. Winston Churchill spoke for us all: “Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality! How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it! We are all worms.”
Our concluding study of Jesus’ parables will help us deal with time, the greatest pressure we face. The central truth of our Lord’s story is simple: to live fully in the Kingdom of God, we must be ready for the King to return today. As we will see, such a lifestyle is the best way to redeem the time we have, to achieve significance with each day and hour, to use time for eternity. If we live prepared for Jesus to return each day, we’ll live in the will and blessing of God. And one day, we’ll be right.
Meet the players in the drama
Jesus is seated at the Mount of Olives with his disciples. This is the last afternoon of his public ministry (Broadus 498). His disciples have asked him, “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24.3). Matthew records Jesus’ answers to that question with the narrative and stories of chapters 24-25. And so the parable of this week deals with the future and its impact on the present.
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25.1). “At that time” points us to the previous parable, the story of the servants and their returning master (Matthew 24.45-51). That story ends with this warning: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vs. 50-51).
Now Jesus finds another way to emphasize the urgency of preparing for the Kingdom to come. Here the kingdom “will be like” virgins with lamps. This is the future tense (unlike the parable of last week) because it deals with future events (cf. Hagner 728). The kingdom is not like the virgins themselves, but like their situation in Jesus’ story.
The virgins are ten in number. A. T. Robertson, the eminent Greek scholar, sees “no special point” in this fact (196). But most commentators disagree. Broadus quotes Lightfoot: the Jews “delighted mightily in the number ten” (499). The frequency of the number in Jewish tradition and literature is interesting: there are Ten Commandments, ten talents (Matthew 25.28), ten pieces of silver (Luke 15.8), ten servants, ten points, and ten cities (Luke 19.13-17), an instrument of ten strings (Psalm 33.2), at least ten families needed to establish a synagogue, and ten persons for a funeral procession (Lenski 963; cf. Josephus, War 6.9.3). At the very least, their number signifies a complete assembly. The problem some will face this night is not due to any lack of friends within their group.
They are virgins “who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1). The “lamps” here were not the tiny clay vessels mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 5.15, the so-called “Herodian” lamps. Rather, they were torches with a wooden staff and some sort of dish or container on top. In this container was placed a piece of rope or cloth dipped in oil (Bruce 299; Broadus 499). The same word, lampas, is found in John 18.2, “They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons”; and Revelation 8.10, “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky.”
The text states that the torch-bearing attendants “went out to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1). And so the virgins are part of a wedding, one of the greatest festivities in an ancient Palestinian village. The bride, groom, and guests were excused from most religious responsibilities. Scholars forsook the study of the Torah to attend. This was a great and holy festival (Johnson 555).
The event in our parable represents the third stage of matrimony in ancient Israel. First the couple was engaged (usually when the bride was very young), then they were “betrothed” for a year (during which they were considered to be married legally but lived in separate homes). Finally came the “marriage,” when the couple was given to each other (cf. Rienecker 73).
Following the marriage ceremony itself came a feast which lasted seven days (cf. Judges 14.12; Genesis 29.27, “Finish this daughter’s bridal week . . .”); it was shortened to three days if she was a widow. At the end of this week, the bridegroom came for his bride, conducting her from her father’s home to his own. This final marriage procession always occurred in the evening. Friends accompanied the bridegroom, and others stayed with the bride until her groom came for her, then processed with her to her new home (Barnes 264).