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The Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

...and this is the case with the famous parable of the ten virgins — sometimes called the parable of the five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins.  It’s only found in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25:1-13.  So let's read the Gospel and then we will try to unpack it and connect it with the Old Testament and the Psalm.  Jesus said these words:

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise replied, `Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.'  But he replied, `Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Okay, so what's the meaning of this parable of Jesus about the ten virgins?  This is another example from Matthew's Gospel of just how Jewish the Gospel really is.  Jesus here is clearly presupposing that his audience is familiar with Jewish wedding customs, and a lot of these are the cultural background of the parable.  So just a few points about an ancient Jewish wedding.  First of all, there were three basic elements to a first century Jewish wedding.  We don’t have a ton of information about it, but we do know some basics.  First, the marriage would begin with the betrothal.  So a man and a woman would be betrothed, they would exchange vows, and they would legally become husband and wife; but they didn't actually live together or consummate the marriage until they had had time for the bridegroom, the husband, to build a home, prepare a home for the bride, and also for the celebration of the great wedding feast.  And that wedding feast would usually be seven days long.  It would be seven days of feasting and joy, with the gathering of the townspeople and the family together to celebrate.  During that seven-day feast they would have one particular night of the feast, the night of consummation, where the bridegroom and the bride would be carried in procession into the bridegroom's home, into what was called the chuppah, the wedding chamber, where they would consummate the marriage.  It was part of that week-long wedding feast.

So what Jesus is describing here in this parable is the entourage of virgins who would be, in a sense, the first century Jewish equivalent of bridesmaids today.  So if you think about a wedding today, you have the groomsmen (those were called sons of the bride chamber), the friends and the family, the men who were close to the bridegroom; and then you would also have the maids, the virgins, the bridesmaids, who would be part of the wedding procession.  That was the role that they played.  Just like today in a wedding, even the term bridesmaids — why do we call them that? — comes from the English word maiden, which means a virgin.  It means an unmarried woman.  And so the same thing here is true of parthénos in the Greek.  These ten virgins are ten maidens, ten maids, ten bridesmaids, who were supposed to be ready for the procession of the bridegroom into the home, and into in this case it would appear to be an indoor wedding feast that would be celebrated on the night of the wedding.  Frequently the procession would take place at night and they'd have torches, which are called lamps here, to light the way.  It would be a kind of festive occasion.

So what Jesus is saying is we have a situation where on that night of the great feast and of the wedding procession, you have these ten bridesmaids, five of whom were foolish and five are wise.  And the difference between the two is that the foolish ones didn't have any oil for their lamps, or in this case it might be their torches.  You would take a torch and wrap it around with a cloth drenched in oil in order burn it.  So five have oil and five of them don’t.  And what happens is the procession is delayed.  The bridegroom is supposed to come in procession into the house but he's delayed.  So while they're waiting for the bridegroom to come they fall asleep and he doesn't get there until midnight.  In other words, in the middle of the night he finally shows up, which is pretty late for a wedding procession, and everyone says “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”  So all the bridesmaids get up, but the problem is the five foolish ones are worried about their lamps going out so they ask the wise ones to give them some of the oil.

And as I have told you before here, whenever you encounter a parable of Jesus, there's almost always a twist, and this one has a couple of twists.  By twists I mean an unexpected element where the characters in the story do something that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect them to do.  So in this case, the first twist is that the five wise bridesmaids, virgins, refuse to give any oil.  This is kind of weird because these processions wouldn’t go on for miles.  You get the sense actually that they are not very far from the wedding feast, and so the bridesmaids say no, we are not going to give you any of our oil, go and buy some for yourself.  Okay, well that just doesn't make any sense, because there are not going to be shops open at midnight.  This isn’t like the 21st century where you have a 24-hour Walmart that you can just go in at anytime of the day and purchase something.  The bridesmaids would not be able to go and purchase oil in the middle of the night, so that is your first clue here that this is not an ordinary wedding and this is not an ordinary bridegroom, and it's not really about oil and lamps.  The lamps and the virgins and the oil symbolize something more.  There's a spiritual signification to this.  So that is the first twist to the parable.

A second twist happens when after this the bridegroom comes and the wise virgins are able to light their torches, go in procession, and enter into the wedding feast.  But then the five foolish ones actually go out and get some oil, but by the time they get back the door to the wedding feast has already been shut.  So they knock on the door and say “Lord, lord, open to us.”  This is another little clue because the word there is kýrios, which can be used for master, but it's also the name for the Lord, the Lord God, or Jesus as the Lord, the son of God.  So they say Lord, open to us.  Now what does he do?  He comes and he opens and says “I do not know you” and shuts the door in their face effectively.  Okay, here is your second twist.  If this were an ordinary wedding…let’s imagine just for the sake of argument that some of the bridesmaids weren’t adequately prepared for the wedding.  They didn't have oil for their lamps and they had actually got some and they were able to light their lamps finally.  Would the groom actually shut the door in their faces if they were the friends of his bride, if they were the family members of his bride?  No, no groom is going to treat the bridesmaids like this.  He would welcome them in.  They would be late, but it wouldn't be the end the world.  But in this case, not only does the bridegroom refuse to let them in, he says something which is completely inconceivable: “I do not know you”; which doesn't make any sense in an ordinary wedding because just like today, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids are all ordinarily chosen from close friends or family members of the groom or the bride.  That is just a standard practice and it goes back to ancient times.

So what's going on here?  What kind of a bridegroom does this?  What kind of bridesmaids do this?  Well, Jesus is not talking about an ordinary wedding.  He's talking about the kingdom of God.  He is talking about the kingdom of Heaven.  We've seen over and over again in Matthew's Gospel that he will compare the kingdom of Heaven to a wedding or a wedding feast or a royal wedding, like the king’s son, and that's the imagery here.  This is really about the kingdom of Heaven, and you can see this in the final line.  In many of Jesus’ parables — I don’t know if I have said this before — it's important to highlight that there is what's called a nimshal.  The nimshal is a Hebrew word for an explanation of the parable that drives home the main point.  Sometimes a nimshal will be longer, like in the parable of the sower where Jesus explains all the elements; other times the nimshal  will be very short, it will just be a one-liner.

In this case it is very short.  What’s the nimshal?  What's the point of the parable?  “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Now I know what Jesus is talking about.  This parable of the kingdom of Heaven is really about the final judgment.  It's about the coming of Christ, the second coming of Christ at the end of time, with the imagery here being Christ as the divine bridegroom, the bridegroom Messiah, who appears to be delayed but will come at some point to inaugurate the everlasting wedding feast of the kingdom of Heaven.  And when he comes, we don't know when it is going to be, so we need to be ready.  So the bridesmaids, the ten virgins in this case, represent the Church in two different states: those who are prepared for the second coming of Christ, these will be like the five wise virgins who had oil for their lamps, or those who are unprepared for the second coming of Christ, like the five foolish virgins who don't have any oil in their lamps in order to greet the bridegroom properly.  Those who are prepared for the second coming are going to be brought in to the great wedding feast of the Lamb, as Revelation 19 will describe the kingdom of heaven.  Those who are unprepared for the coming of Christ at the final judgment will be excluded from the everlasting kingdom of God, and this is of course another figure for what later goes on to be called the punishments of hell.  The Catechism is very clear about this.  The chief suffering, the chief pain of what we call hell, is eternal separation from God.  We see that figured here with the fact that the bridegroom is separating these five foolish virgins and telling them I never knew you.  I don't know you.  I don’t have a relationship with you.

If you have any doubts about that, you can actually look back in Matthew 7.  Jesus uses the same language earlier at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  At the very end of the sermon he says, in verse 21:

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”  And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”

So notice the two parallels there with the parable of the virgins.  “Lord, lord,” which is what they say, “open the door to us.”  And then Jesus’ response is “I never knew you.”  I think this is really important for us to remember because it shows us two things.  First, the fundamental importance of a personal relationship with Christ.  I know that sometimes that can sound cliché, it can can even sound like it's not a Catholic way of approaching things because many Protestant Christians will say “do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”  But there's a real important truth in that expression that you see here in biblical language when Jesus says I need to know you.  In other words, I need to have a relationship with you if you're going to come into the joy of the kingdom of Heaven.  And that relationship is expressed in Matthew 7, Jesus says, through doing the will of God.  That is how we foster and cultivate a relationship with him, by doing his will.  And those who don't do the will of the Father in heaven, who might even perform lots of great deeds or things that are external shows — like didn’t we prophesy in your name or cast out demons in your name — but if we don't know Jesus, it is not going to cut it, because the foundation is that relationship with Jesus Christ.  To be sure, works are important, we have to do the will of God, but we have to do the will of God through his grace in a relationship with him, where we know him as savior and bridegroom.  And these five foolish virgins have obviously not carried that out.  They have fallen away.

 


SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

And you’ve probably heard of this idea of a secret rapture, especially if you live in American context. But I think it’s become more well known around the world in our day and time. So when people talk about “the rapture,” this isn’t the only passage in the New Testament that people will use and appeal to to substantiate that doctrine, but it’s definitely the locus classicus. This is the classic text, because it actually uses the language of a rapture or being caught up in the clouds.

So let’s read the words of Paul with that in mind, and we’ll ask ourselves...is Paul describing here a rapture—a secret rapture? Or is he talking about something else? And as you’ll see, the answer is something else. But I want you to walk with me through the verses so that we can see in context exactly what that something else is. So in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 we read this:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Pause there. The first thing I need to do is...let’s just get the rapture nonsense off the table here, so that we can look at what Paul is actually trying to say here. So what makes some interpreters think Paul is talking about a secret rapture of Christ is verse 17 there, where he says that we will:

...be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…

Now it’s fascinating here that this Protestant tradition of a rapture is actually based on a Latin translation of Paul’s word here. So in the Latin vulgate translation of 1 Thessalonians 4, the word for “caught up” is rapiemur—to be caught up together in the clouds. And so that word becomes the root for the rapture, the catching up, the gathering up of the true believers in Christ. And in Protestant dispensationalism—in American Protestant dispensationalism, especially since the late 19th, early 20th century—the idea of the rapture is basically this: that before the Great Tribulation breaks out at the end of time, before this period of suffering that will precede the final judgment takes place, there is going to be a secret catching up, a secret rapture of true believers so that they will disappear from the Earth and they won’t have to suffer through that time of tribulation. They’ll be raptured, and those who are be left behind in the world will suffer, will experience the tribulation. Some will convert, some won’t. And then finally, Christ will return at his second coming and will judge the living and the dead.

Now this novel idea has no basis in the text. It’s a perfect example of proof texting...of taking one word out of context, one idea out of context and making a false interpretation on its basis. But if you look at the passage here carefully, you will see that Paul is not talking about a secret rapture. He’s talking about a public parousia. He’s not talking about a secret gathering up of the elect. He’s talking about the public second coming of Jesus at the end of time that will coincide with the resurrection of the dead.

And you can see that if you just read through the text and put it in context. Let’s just work through it verse by verse and we’ll see what I’m talking about. So if you go back to verse 13—don’t just start with 17, read the whole thing—it begins by Paul saying:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Okay, pause. What’s the context there? Well, in ancient Judaism—in Scripture and in the New Testament—to sleep was a metaphor for death. So in our day and time, people will use other euphemisms for death. You’ve probably heard people say, “Oh, he passed” or “He passed away.” Well, that’s a kind of gentle, kind way of saying that someone died. So it’s a euphemism describing someone’s going away rather than dying. So in first century AD, they would use the euphemism of sleep. So “someone fell asleep” was a way of describing the fact that they had died. So what’s going on is that in the Church at Thessaloniki, some people have fallen asleep. They’ve died. And the Christians in that congregation—who are converts from paganism, many of which don’t have any solid beliefs or ideas about the afterlife—have lost hope, because they assume that if you die before the second coming, then you won’t actually be able to share in the resurrection.

So they were grieving over the dead, thinking that they would not be saved simply because they died too soon...before the second coming of Christ. So Paul is saying, “Look—no, no, no, no. I don't want you to grieve like the pagans who have no hope. Don’t grieve over those who have fallen asleep.” Alright, so he’s going to give them the faith:

...we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

In other words, what Paul is saying is, those who have died, if they have died in Christ, are actually going to come—they’re going to return to us. They’re going to come with Jesus when He returns at His second coming. He’s going to bring them with Him. So they’re not lost. They are with Christ. And then he goes on to explain, he continues:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord…

So this is like a solemn declaration of divine revelation…

...that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord…

Highlight that, so important. The Greek word there for “coming” is parousia. It is the standard word used by Jesus Himself in the Gospels, but also by Paul to talk about the second coming of Christ. It literally means presence, but it means He’s going to return. He’s going to be present with us again. So he says:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15)

In other words, we’re not going to have it any better off than those who have died, because, verse 16:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.

So he’s describing the parousia of Jesus. And notice here, does this sound like a secret rapture? We’ve got the archangel's call, the cry of command, and the trumpet of God. This is not like you’ll see in those rapture movies where they’re flying on an airplane and all of a sudden half of the airplane quietly just disappears because they’ve been raptured.

The rapture doctrine proposes a secret coming of Jesus to gather his true believers. What Paul is talking about here is a public coming of Jesus at the end of time that coincides with the resurrection of the dead—not the tribulation, but the resurrection of the dead. And he’s saying when that happens, those who are dead in Christ—in other words, the believers who have died—they will rise first. So they’re not going to actually lose out. They’re actually going to be, in a sense, ahead of us. They will rise first and…

...then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…

So pause here. What is Paul getting at? The whole driving force behind his words here is the anxiety of the Thessalonians over whether their dead brothers and sisters in Christ are going to lose their share in salvation...they’re going to lose their share in the resurrection. And Paul is saying, no, they won’t, because here is what’s going to happen. When Christ comes back, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then we will be gathered with them to meet Christ in the air.

So you can imagine this: Christ coming down from Heaven with the saints and then the saints on Earth being called up to meet Christ and His saints together. So it’s like a grand ingathering of all the elect of God, both the dead and the living, that will take place at the end of time. And the reason you know it’s the end of time and not this secret rapture (which the Bible never talks about) is that Paul himself says:

And the dead in Christ will rise first… (1 Thessalonians 4:16b)

So he’s talking about two events: the second coming and the resurrection of the dead. He’s not talking about a secret coming and the disappearance of true believers. He’s talking about the final coming and the resurrection of all the dead in Christ. And he says:

...and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

So the point of Paul’s exhortation here—the point of Paul’s eschatology—is to give the Thessalonians comfort in the face of death. And this is easy to understand. If you look at the prophecies of Jesus in the Gospels, you can walk away from those prophecies—He’s very clear. You don’t know when the second coming is going to take place, so get ready. It’s near.

I am coming soon… (Revelation 3:11a)

...you’ll see in the book of Revelation. How soon? That remains a mystery. So in the first generation of the Church, there was this expectation—as we’ll see when we come to the 1 Thessalonians 5—that because we don’t know the day or hour, Christ could come at any moment. And therefore, He could come soon. So with that imminent expectation, when the first generation of Christians began to die, there were some people who were troubled by that and thought, “Wait, something is wrong here. Something’s gone amiss. What’s going to happen to them? What will be the fate of the dead?”

That was something that had to be clarified by apostles like Paul who said the dead who are with Christ, who are in Christ and with Him will rise again, and we will be gathered together. They’re not going to miss out on salvation.

Now, what’s fascinating to me about this passage is if you want a framework for understanding Paul’s description of the parousia here, you should actually (surprise, surprise) go back to the Old Testament. Because if you look in the book of Exodus 19,:16-20, Paul seems to actually be getting some of the images that he uses to describe the second coming from the account of God coming down from Heaven on Mount Sinai...in the book Exodus chapter 19. So I’ll just give you a few of the parallels here. You can read it for yourself...

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

...and this is the case with the famous parable of the ten virgins — sometimes called the parable of the five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins.  It’s only found in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25:1-13.  So let's read the Gospel and then we will try to unpack it and connect it with the Old Testament and the Psalm.  Jesus said these words:

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise replied, `Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.'  But he replied, `Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Okay, so what's the meaning of this parable of Jesus about the ten virgins?  This is another example from Matthew's Gospel of just how Jewish the Gospel really is.  Jesus here is clearly presupposing that his audience is familiar with Jewish wedding customs, and a lot of these are the cultural background of the parable.  So just a few points about an ancient Jewish wedding.  First of all, there were three basic elements to a first century Jewish wedding.  We don’t have a ton of information about it, but we do know some basics.  First, the marriage would begin with the betrothal.  So a man and a woman would be betrothed, they would exchange vows, and they would legally become husband and wife; but they didn't actually live together or consummate the marriage until they had had time for the bridegroom, the husband, to build a home, prepare a home for the bride, and also for the celebration of the great wedding feast.  And that wedding feast would usually be seven days long.  It would be seven days of feasting and joy, with the gathering of the townspeople and the family together to celebrate.  During that seven-day feast they would have one particular night of the feast, the night of consummation, where the bridegroom and the bride would be carried in procession into the bridegroom's home, into what was called the chuppah, the wedding chamber, where they would consummate the marriage.  It was part of that week-long wedding feast.

So what Jesus is describing here in this parable is the entourage of virgins who would be, in a sense, the first century Jewish equivalent of bridesmaids today.  So if you think about a wedding today, you have the groomsmen (those were called sons of the bride chamber), the friends and the family, the men who were close to the bridegroom; and then you would also have the maids, the virgins, the bridesmaids, who would be part of the wedding procession.  That was the role that they played.  Just like today in a wedding, even the term bridesmaids — why do we call them that? — comes from the English word maiden, which means a virgin.  It means an unmarried woman.  And so the same thing here is true of parthénos in the Greek.  These ten virgins are ten maidens, ten maids, ten bridesmaids, who were supposed to be ready for the procession of the bridegroom into the home, and into in this case it would appear to be an indoor wedding feast that would be celebrated on the night of the wedding.  Frequently the procession would take place at night and they'd have torches, which are called lamps here, to light the way.  It would be a kind of festive occasion.

So what Jesus is saying is we have a situation where on that night of the great feast and of the wedding procession, you have these ten bridesmaids, five of whom were foolish and five are wise.  And the difference between the two is that the foolish ones didn't have any oil for their lamps, or in this case it might be their torches.  You would take a torch and wrap it around with a cloth drenched in oil in order burn it.  So five have oil and five of them don’t.  And what happens is the procession is delayed.  The bridegroom is supposed to come in procession into the house but he's delayed.  So while they're waiting for the bridegroom to come they fall asleep and he doesn't get there until midnight.  In other words, in the middle of the night he finally shows up, which is pretty late for a wedding procession, and everyone says “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”  So all the bridesmaids get up, but the problem is the five foolish ones are worried about their lamps going out so they ask the wise ones to give them some of the oil.

And as I have told you before here, whenever you encounter a parable of Jesus, there's almost always a twist, and this one has a couple of twists.  By twists I mean an unexpected element where the characters in the story do something that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect them to do.  So in this case, the first twist is that the five wise bridesmaids, virgins, refuse to give any oil.  This is kind of weird because these processions wouldn’t go on for miles.  You get the sense actually that they are not very far from the wedding feast, and so the bridesmaids say no, we are not going to give you any of our oil, go and buy some for yourself.  Okay, well that just doesn't make any sense, because there are not going to be shops open at midnight.  This isn’t like the 21st century where you have a 24-hour Walmart that you can just go in at anytime of the day and purchase something.  The bridesmaids would not be able to go and purchase oil in the middle of the night, so that is your first clue here that this is not an ordinary wedding and this is not an ordinary bridegroom, and it's not really about oil and lamps.  The lamps and the virgins and the oil symbolize something more.  There's a spiritual signification to this.  So that is the first twist to the parable.

A second twist happens when after this the bridegroom comes and the wise virgins are able to light their torches, go in procession, and enter into the wedding feast.  But then the five foolish ones actually go out and get some oil, but by the time they get back the door to the wedding feast has already been shut.  So they knock on the door and say “Lord, lord, open to us.”  This is another little clue because the word there is kýrios, which can be used for master, but it's also the name for the Lord, the Lord God, or Jesus as the Lord, the son of God.  So they say Lord, open to us.  Now what does he do?  He comes and he opens and says “I do not know you” and shuts the door in their face effectively.  Okay, here is your second twist.  If this were an ordinary wedding…let’s imagine just for the sake of argument that some of the bridesmaids weren’t adequately prepared for the wedding.  They didn't have oil for their lamps and they had actually got some and they were able to light their lamps finally.  Would the groom actually shut the door in their faces if they were the friends of his bride, if they were the family members of his bride?  No, no groom is going to treat the bridesmaids like this.  He would welcome them in.  They would be late, but it wouldn't be the end the world.  But in this case, not only does the bridegroom refuse to let them in, he says something which is completely inconceivable: “I do not know you”; which doesn't make any sense in an ordinary wedding because just like today, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids are all ordinarily chosen from close friends or family members of the groom or the bride.  That is just a standard practice and it goes back to ancient times.

So what's going on here?  What kind of a bridegroom does this?  What kind of bridesmaids do this?  Well, Jesus is not talking about an ordinary wedding.  He's talking about the kingdom of God.  He is talking about the kingdom of Heaven.  We've seen over and over again in Matthew's Gospel that he will compare the kingdom of Heaven to a wedding or a wedding feast or a royal wedding, like the king’s son, and that's the imagery here.  This is really about the kingdom of Heaven, and you can see this in the final line.  In many of Jesus’ parables — I don’t know if I have said this before — it's important to highlight that there is what's called a nimshal.  The nimshal is a Hebrew word for an explanation of the parable that drives home the main point.  Sometimes a nimshal will be longer, like in the parable of the sower where Jesus explains all the elements; other times the nimshal  will be very short, it will just be a one-liner.

In this case it is very short.  What’s the nimshal?  What's the point of the parable?  “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Now I know what Jesus is talking about.  This parable of the kingdom of Heaven is really about the final judgment.  It's about the coming of Christ, the second coming of Christ at the end of time, with the imagery here being Christ as the divine bridegroom, the bridegroom Messiah, who appears to be delayed but will come at some point to inaugurate the everlasting wedding feast of the kingdom of Heaven.  And when he comes, we don't know when it is going to be, so we need to be ready.  So the bridesmaids, the ten virgins in this case, represent the Church in two different states: those who are prepared for the second coming of Christ, these will be like the five wise virgins who had oil for their lamps, or those who are unprepared for the second coming of Christ, like the five foolish virgins who don't have any oil in their lamps in order to greet the bridegroom properly.  Those who are prepared for the second coming are going to be brought in to the great wedding feast of the Lamb, as Revelation 19 will describe the kingdom of heaven.  Those who are unprepared for the coming of Christ at the final judgment will be excluded from the everlasting kingdom of God, and this is of course another figure for what later goes on to be called the punishments of hell.  The Catechism is very clear about this.  The chief suffering, the chief pain of what we call hell, is eternal separation from God.  We see that figured here with the fact that the bridegroom is separating these five foolish virgins and telling them I never knew you.  I don't know you.  I don’t have a relationship with you.

If you have any doubts about that, you can actually look back in Matthew 7.  Jesus uses the same language earlier at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  At the very end of the sermon he says, in verse 21:

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”  And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”

So notice the two parallels there with the parable of the virgins.  “Lord, lord,” which is what they say, “open the door to us.”  And then Jesus’ response is “I never knew you.”  I think this is really important for us to remember because it shows us two things.  First, the fundamental importance of a personal relationship with Christ.  I know that sometimes that can sound cliché, it can can even sound like it's not a Catholic way of approaching things because many Protestant Christians will say “do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”  But there's a real important truth in that expression that you see here in biblical language when Jesus says I need to know you.  In other words, I need to have a relationship with you if you're going to come into the joy of the kingdom of Heaven.  And that relationship is expressed in Matthew 7, Jesus says, through doing the will of God.  That is how we foster and cultivate a relationship with him, by doing his will.  And those who don't do the will of the Father in heaven, who might even perform lots of great deeds or things that are external shows — like didn’t we prophesy in your name or cast out demons in your name — but if we don't know Jesus, it is not going to cut it, because the foundation is that relationship with Jesus Christ.  To be sure, works are important, we have to do the will of God, but we have to do the will of God through his grace in a relationship with him, where we know him as savior and bridegroom.  And these five foolish virgins have obviously not carried that out.  They have fallen away.

 


SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

And you’ve probably heard of this idea of a secret rapture, especially if you live in American context. But I think it’s become more well known around the world in our day and time. So when people talk about “the rapture,” this isn’t the only passage in the New Testament that people will use and appeal to to substantiate that doctrine, but it’s definitely the locus classicus. This is the classic text, because it actually uses the language of a rapture or being caught up in the clouds.

So let’s read the words of Paul with that in mind, and we’ll ask ourselves...is Paul describing here a rapture—a secret rapture? Or is he talking about something else? And as you’ll see, the answer is something else. But I want you to walk with me through the verses so that we can see in context exactly what that something else is. So in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 we read this:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Pause there. The first thing I need to do is...let’s just get the rapture nonsense off the table here, so that we can look at what Paul is actually trying to say here. So what makes some interpreters think Paul is talking about a secret rapture of Christ is verse 17 there, where he says that we will:

...be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…

Now it’s fascinating here that this Protestant tradition of a rapture is actually based on a Latin translation of Paul’s word here. So in the Latin vulgate translation of 1 Thessalonians 4, the word for “caught up” is rapiemur—to be caught up together in the clouds. And so that word becomes the root for the rapture, the catching up, the gathering up of the true believers in Christ. And in Protestant dispensationalism—in American Protestant dispensationalism, especially since the late 19th, early 20th century—the idea of the rapture is basically this: that before the Great Tribulation breaks out at the end of time, before this period of suffering that will precede the final judgment takes place, there is going to be a secret catching up, a secret rapture of true believers so that they will disappear from the Earth and they won’t have to suffer through that time of tribulation. They’ll be raptured, and those who are be left behind in the world will suffer, will experience the tribulation. Some will convert, some won’t. And then finally, Christ will return at his second coming and will judge the living and the dead.

Now this novel idea has no basis in the text. It’s a perfect example of proof texting...of taking one word out of context, one idea out of context and making a false interpretation on its basis. But if you look at the passage here carefully, you will see that Paul is not talking about a secret rapture. He’s talking about a public parousia. He’s not talking about a secret gathering up of the elect. He’s talking about the public second coming of Jesus at the end of time that will coincide with the resurrection of the dead.

And you can see that if you just read through the text and put it in context. Let’s just work through it verse by verse and we’ll see what I’m talking about. So if you go back to verse 13—don’t just start with 17, read the whole thing—it begins by Paul saying:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Okay, pause. What’s the context there? Well, in ancient Judaism—in Scripture and in the New Testament—to sleep was a metaphor for death. So in our day and time, people will use other euphemisms for death. You’ve probably heard people say, “Oh, he passed” or “He passed away.” Well, that’s a kind of gentle, kind way of saying that someone died. So it’s a euphemism describing someone’s going away rather than dying. So in first century AD, they would use the euphemism of sleep. So “someone fell asleep” was a way of describing the fact that they had died. So what’s going on is that in the Church at Thessaloniki, some people have fallen asleep. They’ve died. And the Christians in that congregation—who are converts from paganism, many of which don’t have any solid beliefs or ideas about the afterlife—have lost hope, because they assume that if you die before the second coming, then you won’t actually be able to share in the resurrection.

So they were grieving over the dead, thinking that they would not be saved simply because they died too soon...before the second coming of Christ. So Paul is saying, “Look—no, no, no, no. I don't want you to grieve like the pagans who have no hope. Don’t grieve over those who have fallen asleep.” Alright, so he’s going to give them the faith:

...we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

In other words, what Paul is saying is, those who have died, if they have died in Christ, are actually going to come—they’re going to return to us. They’re going to come with Jesus when He returns at His second coming. He’s going to bring them with Him. So they’re not lost. They are with Christ. And then he goes on to explain, he continues:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord…

So this is like a solemn declaration of divine revelation…

...that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord…

Highlight that, so important. The Greek word there for “coming” is parousia. It is the standard word used by Jesus Himself in the Gospels, but also by Paul to talk about the second coming of Christ. It literally means presence, but it means He’s going to return. He’s going to be present with us again. So he says:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15)

In other words, we’re not going to have it any better off than those who have died, because, verse 16:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.

So he’s describing the parousia of Jesus. And notice here, does this sound like a secret rapture? We’ve got the archangel's call, the cry of command, and the trumpet of God. This is not like you’ll see in those rapture movies where they’re flying on an airplane and all of a sudden half of the airplane quietly just disappears because they’ve been raptured.

The rapture doctrine proposes a secret coming of Jesus to gather his true believers. What Paul is talking about here is a public coming of Jesus at the end of time that coincides with the resurrection of the dead—not the tribulation, but the resurrection of the dead. And he’s saying when that happens, those who are dead in Christ—in other words, the believers who have died—they will rise first. So they’re not going to actually lose out. They’re actually going to be, in a sense, ahead of us. They will rise first and…

...then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…

So pause here. What is Paul getting at? The whole driving force behind his words here is the anxiety of the Thessalonians over whether their dead brothers and sisters in Christ are going to lose their share in salvation...they’re going to lose their share in the resurrection. And Paul is saying, no, they won’t, because here is what’s going to happen. When Christ comes back, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then we will be gathered with them to meet Christ in the air.

So you can imagine this: Christ coming down from Heaven with the saints and then the saints on Earth being called up to meet Christ and His saints together. So it’s like a grand ingathering of all the elect of God, both the dead and the living, that will take place at the end of time. And the reason you know it’s the end of time and not this secret rapture (which the Bible never talks about) is that Paul himself says:

And the dead in Christ will rise first… (1 Thessalonians 4:16b)

So he’s talking about two events: the second coming and the resurrection of the dead. He’s not talking about a secret coming and the disappearance of true believers. He’s talking about the final coming and the resurrection of all the dead in Christ. And he says:

...and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

So the point of Paul’s exhortation here—the point of Paul’s eschatology—is to give the Thessalonians comfort in the face of death. And this is easy to understand. If you look at the prophecies of Jesus in the Gospels, you can walk away from those prophecies—He’s very clear. You don’t know when the second coming is going to take place, so get ready. It’s near.

I am coming soon… (Revelation 3:11a)

...you’ll see in the book of Revelation. How soon? That remains a mystery. So in the first generation of the Church, there was this expectation—as we’ll see when we come to the 1 Thessalonians 5—that because we don’t know the day or hour, Christ could come at any moment. And therefore, He could come soon. So with that imminent expectation, when the first generation of Christians began to die, there were some people who were troubled by that and thought, “Wait, something is wrong here. Something’s gone amiss. What’s going to happen to them? What will be the fate of the dead?”

That was something that had to be clarified by apostles like Paul who said the dead who are with Christ, who are in Christ and with Him will rise again, and we will be gathered together. They’re not going to miss out on salvation.

Now, what’s fascinating to me about this passage is if you want a framework for understanding Paul’s description of the parousia here, you should actually (surprise, surprise) go back to the Old Testament. Because if you look in the book of Exodus 19,:16-20, Paul seems to actually be getting some of the images that he uses to describe the second coming from the account of God coming down from Heaven on Mount Sinai...in the book Exodus chapter 19. So I’ll just give you a few of the parallels here. You can read it for yourself...

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