The Ten Virgins
As some of you know, COME & SEE Ministries has associated with it a group of prayer warriors who regularly and faithfully go to the throne of God making their requests known to the Lord in behalf of many kinds of personal needs and situations. Yesterday, my daughter Jennifer commented that she was amazed at the severity of some of the requests that often come in. She is so right. Praying for each other is certainly right and good (indeed, that's mainly why we organized this team) and I hope this will continue until Jesus comes.
But today I want to share a thought on another kind of prayer. I believe what I have in mind should be on Christian hearts continually, for to be so identifies us with the five wise virgins of Matthew 25. (Quoting from the Authorized King James Version.)
25:1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
25:2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
25:3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
25:4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
25:5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
25:6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
25:7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
25:8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
25:9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
25:11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
25:12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
As indicated, the five wise virgins had an extra measure of oil and the five foolish virgins did not. Most Christians believe (mistakenly, I think) that the five wise virgins represent the saved and that the five foolish virgins are the unsaved. Actually, the Scripture strongly suggests that all ten are saved. All are called virgins and all have burning lamps which is indicative of salvation. The Lord’s teaching in this parable is not about those who will go to heaven versus those who don’t, but rather instructs us that the unwise virgins didn't have the EXTRA measure of oil like the wise virgins did. And thus, when the bridegroom came, the unwise were not ready to go with him. Since this parable is a picture of the Church in waiting for the Lord to Rapture her for the wedding, this brings up quite a startling implication, doesn't it?
(Verse 8 in the Authorized King James version said the lamps of the unwise virgins had "gone out". Newer versions, including the New King James, have corrected this error by inserting "...are going out", indicating that the lamps were flickering, not out. Spiritually speaking, if one's "lamp" is ever lit, it will never go out. To believe otherwise would indicate that one could lose his/her salvation, which we know can never be so. I'm referring here to spirit salvation, not soul salvation. Spirit salvation, i.e., being born again in one's spirit man, is forever and can never be lost. Once saved, the "new man", i.e., the sealed spirit of a true believer in Christ, will spend eternity with Almighty God. But the earthly soul, i.e., the will, mind and emotions, basically one's active life in this world, is another thing altogether. The soul can suffer consequences due to wrong living, and in fact, be "lost". This may come as a shock to readers who equate soul and spirit to be the same thing. Full explanation of this requires much more space than is possible here. It is so important that I wrote an entire book on the subject called What Is Saving Faith? But an article such as this can at least serve to touch on this extremely important subject and hopefully stir one’s thinking regarding it.)
This parable is about Christ and the Church, Christ being the bridegroom and the virgins being the saved. The focus is on the Church as she prepares for the Lord’s second coming. Once one sees that it's possible to be saved and yet unwise (i.e., not possessing enough "oil"), the strong implication is that not all Christians go in to be with the Lord at the initial Rapture time! This understanding will come as a surprising shock to most Christians, but a very careful study of the parable reveals something quite different than what most of us have been taught all our lives. Although likely unintentional, it appears that some of the language of most English translations of this parable has for centuries muddied the pure water of the Word as given in the original language. Let me share a few insights recently learned.
In addition to the error of verse 8 as described above, verse 5 is also questionable. Most translations say that all the virgins were sleeping. But one careful Bible expositor I know as a friend pointed out to me that actually the Greek text presents us with an "either — or" situation here. That is, the five wise virgins were doing one thing and the five unwise were doing something quite the opposite.
In the New King James translation the verse reads: "But while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." The bridegroom tarrying of course refers to the time and place Jesus will be (where He presently is), at the right hand of God the Father interceding for and acting as the High Priest for the Church while it is still in the world. The above translation and others like it obviously leads one to believe that all ten virgins were lying around sleeping. Actually, before we even look a little deeper into the original Greek meanings of the passage, when you really think about it, this doesn't even make good common sense. The parable has already made it very clear that five of the virgins were wise. That being so, it would be totally paradoxical and contradictive that the wise would be sleeping right along with the unwise, rather than being alert and expectant of the bridegroom’s coming, which is what one would conclude if the five wise virgins were indeed wise. We shall see that this conclusion is exactly what the original Greek inferred.
Like many other Scriptures, the key to correct understanding of this passage is slightly hidden in certain key words of the Greek text in this passage. The word for "slumbered" is a word which means to "nod", not necessarily "nodding" in the sense of sleepiness but rather in the sense of approval. I’m sure the reader knows very well what I mean, and likely do it yourself at certain times. For instance, when a preacher is speaking the truth to a congregation, often many in the group will voice their approval by saying “AMEN”, but also often some do the same thing by simply nodding the head to and fro, meaning “YES”. This is what the five wise virgins were doing. Nodding their approval and desire for the bridegroom to come. They wanted to see Him. They were beckoning Him to come by nodding their heads approvingly. Get it? If you do, just nod your head and say “Hmm!”, the way I did the first time I heard about this.
The second part of the verse refers to what the five unwise virgins were doing — "...and slept". Actually, it should read "or slept" rather than "and slept". In my very limited understanding of Greek sentence structure, whichever conjunction is used in converting Greek into English depends upon the context of the sentence. Sometimes “and” should be used; sometimes “or” should be used. “OR” should be used here. Why so? Clearly, the apostle Matthew is giving us a contrasting view of each of the two groups of five virgins, not a similarity perspective among the ten virgins. They were not all "slumbering and sleeping". They were either beckoning approvingly (by nodding) as they waited for the bridegroom, OR they were lazily sleeping. The wise were doing the former; the unwise were doing the latter. Remember, the five wise virgins had the extra measure of oil. What does this actually mean?
An Extra Measure of Oil
Well, it means to be ready. It means to be beckoning. It means to be nodding expectantly and approvingly of the coming of the Lord. It means to be Biblically up-to-date. Christians need to be diligent in their search to clearly understand God's Word. Often the leaders in many churches are just as ignorant as the laity on certain subjects. This is due to their theological minds already being made up, maybe even locked due to specific erroneous beliefs established in seminary training. All of us, pastors and congregations, need to be modern Bereans, which means to be continually studying the Bible in depth to see if what we believe and have been taught is in line with what the Bible in fact teaches. And, based on solid, Holy Spirit-directed analyses, when we find real differences between what is said and taught as compared to what we formerly believed, we need to be ready to change our minds, repent, and go another way. Please do not think that I'm being critical of pastors just to be cynical. God bless them. But I think too often many haven't studied their Bibles on their own enough and been willing to change their minds about certain deeper-truth Scriptures, Scriptures such as is being presented here.
(Recently, I met a pastor of a large congregation and quickly came to respect him and his basic teaching and preaching. By his invitation to breakfast one day, we spent a couple of hours discussing some prophetic Scriptures. He even took notes! At the end of our conversation he said to me with excitement, “Lance, you have really stretched me today.” I had told him about several conclusions I’ve reached over the past 22 years of prophetic studies. Unusual conclusions. However, after going home and re-thinking all I’d said, he has apparently totally rejected my understanding. I suspect he later thought through everything and decided that my Biblical stance was just too different from the mainstream of prophetic rationale so prevalent in the Church today. He knew that it would be difficult to convey this new thought to his congregation, who likely already held views much like his own. There would just be too many concepts he would have had to change, too quickly. It so happened that when we met he was already making preparations to present to his congregation a series of messages centering on the book of Revelation. I suspect he decided that it was more comfortable to stick with what he had already embraced regardless of how persuasive my understanding at first seemed to him. I mean, after all, “What does an optometrist know?” was surely a question on his mind. “God bless my pastor friend. I’m sure he means well”. Although there are no thus-saith-the-Lord prophets in our day, a Christian layman who may have received unusual insights due to an unction and teaching from the Holy Spirit is as unpopular and as unaccepted as the ancient prophets were.)
Who Goes at the Initial Rapture?
The brief understanding that I have shared with you here today is perhaps insufficient to fully change your mind about what this parable teaches. But it makes much more sense to me interpreted the way I have presented it than the way I formerly believed. Of course, this raises the question of who will be raptured at the coming of the Lord! Will all believers go at the same time? Or, will some be "left behind"? Do only the wise go? That is, only those with the extra measure of oil? If we have interpreted the parable correctly, the two types of virgins makes it appear that this is the way it will be. I suspect the wise will be those Christians who are really looking forward to Christ's coming and they are gladly anticipating it. These will be "studied up", “confessed up” and "prayed up". The “wise” are Philadelphian believers, that part of the Church described in Revelation 3:7-13 which Jesus said He would keep from the “hour of trial”, the only Church of the seven described in Revelation given this promise.
There is definitely a strong contrast among believers in the Church today. Numbers-wise, it appears that the majority of the Church is, if not totally asleep, at least slumbering. Luke-warmness, apathy and carnality best describe the evidence we see in most churches today. Revelation 3 addresses the Laodicean church which many expositors believe describes our age. I believe this description pictures the largest portion of the modern Church. This is not to say that the majority in the Church who profess Christ as Savior and Redeemer are unsaved. Rather, it is to say that the majority is “unwise”. Most are not ready nor are they gladly anticipating the coming of the Lord. Their “oil” reserves are low or non-existent. They are lying around slumbering and sleeping and/or have dirtied their “garments” through carnal living. In most churches I’ve been involved with over the past 22 years, both as member and/or guest, have scorned and rejected my attempts at prophetic input — for example, that there is sound Biblical basis that the Lord is coming soon and that we should be lifting up our heads because all Scriptural predictions and their fulfillment indicate that our redemption draws near. The majority do not want to hear this, including pastors. In fact, I could truthfully even say “particularly pastors”. “Strong prophetic teaching is divisive”, has been a typical response expressed to me.
The initial point I made at the commencement of this article was to suggest a special kind of prayer needs to be routinely on the lips of prayer warriors. I believe saints need to become wise, i.e., to come alive and "beckon" for the Lord to return. I believe we need to adopt the apostle John's closing prayer in the Bible, "Even so, Come Lord Jesus!" I don't know about you, but I don't find it easy to truly adopt this attitude. I have to fight the tendency of being quite comfortable and anchored here on earth. But I'm purposing to keep in mind the attitude that I should have, that of looking expectantly for my Lord to come. This takes vigilance. It takes determination. It takes time and effort. This is partly what it means to buy "oil" for ourselves. Who sells this oil? In my honest opinion, providers of this kind of “oil” (i.e., Godly, genuine, deeper-truth-bent teachers) are few and far between. But, thank God, there are some. We need to seek them out. Also, we ourselves need to be continually in process of becoming this kind through self-determined study and prayer. For some reason (s), in the mind of God, having an extra measure of “oil” when Jesus comes is super-important. We Christians need to be busy trying to figure out what it means.
This understanding of the parable of the ten virgins suggests that the Rapture of the Church will be phased rather than a single event. That is, that at the Lord’s coming, there will be a partial removal of a portion of the Church, a “firstfruits” group, the “wise” ones — actually the “bride of Christ”. These will have readied themselves by their good works in addition to having received the new birth by grace through faith in Christ. If this is so, as is suggested by the understanding presented here today of the parable of the five wise and the five unwise virgins, then one could easily conclude that the purpose of leaving behind the lukewarm church will be for a time of purification of the groggy, carnal-prone, Laodician church during the coming Tribulation (i.e., the “hour of trial”).
This is truly an awesome thought to contemplate. And frankly, as time marches on and as I study other confirming Scriptures, I’m inclined to believe that the whole Church will not be removed at the same time. If it is, then the conclusion suggested in this newsletter still shouldn’t be harmful. We can just all shout “HALLELUJAH” and say that God’s grace and mercy was greater relative to the sleepy, unwise, Christian “virgins” than I and a few others anticipated.
I should point out here that I have written a 400-page book called THE TWO WITNESSES in which I conclude that the Church will be raptured at the mid-point of the final Tribulation. So, you can see that I have of late made a strong swing in my prophetic conclusions. All the years I was writing my book, I confess that there were points in my study that I could see and identify with those who hold to the pre-Trib Rapture position. However, I felt the preponderance of information indicated a mid-Trib Rapture was most indicative, so that is where I decided to take my stand. Actually, it may turn out that both positions are correct. Now, after several years of further study, it appears clearer to me now that God’s “soul harvest” may be much like the way a farmer gathers his crops. Let me personalize this:
I was raised on a farm. There were early “firstfruits”. Then there would be the main harvest. In Georgia, our main crop was cotton. There would be some cotton ready to pick early in the season, i.e., those bowls which were on top of the stalks nearest the sun would open first. Then, after a longer period of hot summer and early fall, the top leaves would wilt and die and then the bowls lower down would get their sun exposure and also bloom. Later in the fall, would come the very last of the lowest bowls on the stalk; this was the “gleaning” period. The farmers called it “scrap cotton”. Many times the “scrap cotton” would be given to poor people who would go around asking farmers if they could have that part since the owners didn’t plan to gather it anyway. Some “good” farmers would extend this courtesy.
The harvesting typology found in the Hebrew Testament suggests that the above scenario may picture exactly how God will “harvest” the saved at the end of the age.
1. First to be removed will be the “firstfruits”, i.e., the “wise” aspect of the Church, the prepared “virgins” who possess the extra measure of “oil” at the Lord’s trumpet call.
2. Then comes the larger harvest at mid-Trib (as I formerly thought would be the whole Church). Just like the case of cotton gathering, volume-wise, the second part would be much greater than the “firstfruits”. These represent the majority in the Church today, i.e., the Laodicean Church — the sleepy, unwise, carnal, apathetic (although saved) Church. But after the removal of the “firstfruits”, the main harvest (i.e., the more abundant numbers) will probably grow quickly, having heard, although not having responded to, the pleas and urges of the more sensitive Christian “prophets” of today.
These two separate events would complete the removal of the total Church. Next...
3. The “gleaning” period would represent the saved of the Great Tribulation, i.e., those saved during the last half of the final seven year period. This period is called the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, i.e., that period when the anti-Christ forces will be operating at its fullest potential. These last saved will be a combination of the 144,000 born again Jews as well as all those who put their trust in Christ’s Gospel which they will preach during the last half of the Tribulation. These last ones are not a part of the Church, all of which will have already been removed from the earth, but they will nevertheless be saved and enter Christ’s Kingdom during the Millennium.
Are there other Scriptures which affirm the above analysis of the parable of the ten virgins? Yes, indeed, but time and space does not permit going into that today.
Forgiveness for sin (s) and eternal destiny was accomplished for Christian believers and was totally paid and won by Christ Jesus. But, maturing in the faith is a process. God expects believers to place good works on the foundation of their faith in Christ. Being a member of the “firstfruits” Rapture, plus receiving rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ, are at least partly determined by the work Christians do AFTER they are spiritually saved. God supplies the “oil”. But we “buy” it ourselves. I’d like to leave you with an appropriate Scripture which illustrates this principle:
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”
Psalm 84:5&7 (NIV).
And also, of course, the prayer which all saints should utter regularly:
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, Come Lord Jesus.” Rev. 22:20 (NKJV).
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT:
Dear reader, concerning the Lord’s second coming, is your “nod” today reflective of eager anticipation, or apathetic sleepiness? The choice is yours. If you have the doldrums and feel spiritually lulled and listless, I encourage you today — WAKE UP! and “nod” your beckoning approval of the Bridegroom’s coming for you.
God’s very best to you today,
Lance Johnson, O.D.