Give Me Oil In My Lamp
© 04.04.09 By D. Eric Williams
Jesus begins this first parable of Matthew chapter 25 with a familiar introduction saying "then
the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to." The first question we must deal with is simply what Jesus means by "then."
The context is found in Matthew Chapter 24 wherein Jesus describes the conclusion of the old covenant age. We must always keep in mind that the original audience to whom Jesus was speaking was the Jewish people – in this particular instance his 12 disciples (although Jesus intended that his inner circle would spread the news to others on this most important subject). We must also keep in mind that Christ's ministry was to the Jews even as we acknowledge that he had an eye on the future when the people of God would be defined in him and therefore include non-Jewish believers as well. I must also remind you that unless we understand the original meaning and application we cannot understand how to apply it to our day and age.
Thus the situation in mind here is the end of the old covenant age. When that took place then the kingdom of God would be like (at least in one aspect), what is portrayed in this parable. To be exact, there is just one particular characteristic of the kingdom of God that Jesus hopes to make clear in this parable. That particular aspect of the kingdom is important in light of the conclusion of the old covenant age that his audience would experience. By the way, the reason Jesus told so many parables about the kingdom is because it would have been impossible to convey the fullness of the kingdom with a single story.
As with many of his other parable Jesus is emphasizing the exclusive nature of the kingdom of God. We'll be looking at a particular detail concerning that exclusive nature but as with many other parables Jesus is driving home the point that the kingdom of God is limited to a particular people - a people chosen by God. In other words not everyone will come under the rule of Jesus Christ. Not everyone is going to submit to the reign of God in the Messiah. Some are in; some are out. Therefore we have wheat and tares, good fish and bad fish, those who forgive and those who refuse to do so, people who defy an invitation to a wedding feast and those who accept it. Among those who accept the invitation we find some who reject the proper attire. In this case we have 10 young girls: five are sensible and five are silly. This is not the only thing that Jesus talked about by any means. Yet as we have seen this far in his life, Jesus is a polarizing, a dividing personality.
People who came in contact with him either embraced him or rejected him with vigor. And that is the stark reality of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. It was true then and it is true today. The Jews of the first century had to make a choice because there is no neutrality in this universe. Christ with his coming and his ministry showed a sharp distinction between the new creation and the old - the new covenant and the old covenant administration. Everyone who heard Jesus Christ had to make a choice: would they remain in the family of Adam and the old creation or would they submit to this final Adam and the new creation? It was necessary to submit to the last Adam in order to be part of the messianic kingdom and the new creation.
We've seen that God sovereignly chooses whomever he desires to be part of his covenant community. Yet, from a human standpoint men and women to make a decision concerning their eternal destiny when confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ. Yet people do so – somehow – within the truth of the sovereignty of God.
For whatever reason God had determined from all eternity that the word would be the vehicle through which mankind would make a decision concerning his allegiance. The Word of God (often in parable as presented by Jesus Christ), is used by God to bring about the new birth as the Holy Spirit applies the truth in a person's heart. For instance, as we read in Romans 10:13–14:
For "WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:13-14)
Thus the hearing of the word is a vital component of our election. The word is essential to our conversion. This is true because there must be an intellectual assent to the truth – along with a heartfelt conviction and action – in order for true faith to be present. This is why the truth was hidden from those whom God had determined to withhold salvation.
God is not interested in mindless followers. There is no question that the Spirit of God brings life but he does so with the applied word of God in context of the intellectual assent of the individual. Therefore, as we have seen, the primary expression of Jesus ministry on earth was teaching. Sometimes he would teach in a conventional fashion; other times he would use parables to convey truth. Sometimes the parable was designed to shield the truth of the gospel from the eyes of the unbeliever even while it embedded the principles of the messianic kingdom deep in the hearts of those who were illuminated by the Holy Spirit. In a case such as this where the disciples were the only ones who heard the parable that truth was given in order that the apostles might convey it to others. Thereby, like Jesus Christ, they were expected to warn, to entreat, to hold nothing back in the effort to bring others under the authority of Jesus Christ.
In light of the paramount importance of the issue – eternal life or eternal torment – Christ does not try to soften the message. Instead he presents the harsh reality of exclusion to his countrymen. They had been called by God to be a new Adam, undoing the curse of the first Adam. This is why they experienced circumstances similar to the original Adam. Like Adam, Israel was chosen by God based upon grace and not personal merit (Exodus 19:4–6). Like Adam Israel was given law and like the law given to Adam the essence of those ethical demands can be summed up in the probation against determining for oneself what constitutes right or wrong. We should never fall in the trap of believing that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was somehow a magical plant which enabled Adam and Eve to understand right from wrong. They knew right from wrong just as Israel knew right from wrong - just as we do today. The issue at hand in both cases was, who would determine the absolute standard of right and wrong: God or Man, the Creator or the Creature?
For both Adam and Israel the results of sin would be an expulsion from the garden or the land. Obedience for both parties would result in continued fellowship with God. And again for both Adam and Israel a successful covenant relationship dependent upon God's empowering presence (Adam and Eve fell from innocence in God's "absence").
Thus Israel had been unable to undo Adam's failure and had even gone backward in creating an exclusive club, idolizing the law and ritual and failing to recognize God's interest in the non-Jewish majority of humanity. This even in light of the prophets words concerning God's interest in the behavior of the pagan nations.
Jesus appeared to gather up the remnant of believing Israel and to fulfill all of God's expectations. He was the last Adam and the true Israel. Only he could undo the Adamic curse and only he could put creation to rights and properly fulfill the covenant stipulations. Thus the result of Christ's ministry was a new creation and a new covenant.
This is the reason for his parables about exclusion and inclusion. It was critical that Israel should understand that they were not chosen apart from Jesus Christ. It was imperative that they understand that there was a new Adam, the last Adam and it was time to join his family. It was critical that they come to learn that unless they were found in the Messiah they would be excluded from the new creation in the new covenant. In other words, because the fullness of time had common and be cataclysmic event of history was about to take place they were required to embrace the rule of God in Christ or the dispossessed. The Adamic race had failed - the second Adamic race had failed - the last Adam would succeed.
The parable we will examine the day is found in Matthew 25:1–13, and reads:
"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. "And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose 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 answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Matthew 25:1-13)
There is not much that we know about Jewish weddings. It may be a shock to some to find out that Jewish weddings were not religious ceremonies but civil. In other words, it was all about the contract agreed upon which brought two families together through marriage.
What we do know is that in a typical "wedding ceremony" the groom would go to the house of them ride (her parents home), where certain legal formalities would take place and then there would be a procession back to the home of the bridegroom. This would often or perhaps even typically be in the evening so that the way would be let by celebrants carrying torches. Normally there would be a large crowd which accompanied the bridegroom and his bride who would then participate in a feast at the home of the new husband and wife.
It is typical to consider these young girls to be bridesmaids but we really don't know exactly what their responsibilities may have been in the marriage ceremony. In any case we must keep in mind that when Christ tells the parable he is seeking to drive home a single point or two and it is not critically important for us to understand all of the details in this parable. In other words, it would be poor exegesis to allegorize every aspect of this parable. I don't think that Jesus intended the oil to be anything in particular nor are the torches especially significant. The fact of the matter is that this parable is simply a vehicle designed to drive home the point that proper preparation is critical.
As we see from a variety of passages in the Old Testament Israel is often portrayed as a virgin and so we do want to recognize that these 10 virgins represent Israel. The number 10 is not especially significant either. It simply represents a fullness or a complete number. Therefore our parable is about the whole of Israel (the visible covenant community), and her response to the messianic claims of Jesus.
First we will look at the five wise virgins. The wise is to think as God thinks. We'll call them "sensible" simply because (as you know), I like my outline sentence to have a musical cadence to it. Thus we have the sensible virgins in contrast to the simple virgins all concerned with the issue of salvation.
The sensible girls don't seem much different than the simple at first glance. When he read the parable we find that they gather together to wait for the bridegroom and began to nod with weariness before finally falling asleep. All of the tendrils do that. So then, what is the difference? The difference is that the five sensible girls brought containers of oil with them in order to keep their lamps lit. The Greek term here refers to a torch and probably means a bundle of oil soaked rags affixed to the end of a stick. This kind of torch or lamp would require additional oil in order to keep burning. Thus, the sensible girls bring extra oil with them. In other words they are prepared. By the way, don't forget that the time frame in view here is that generation after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until the end of the old covenant age which was signaled by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Just previous to this Jesus had said that those who did the business of the master in his absence would be blessed by those who failed to carry out his wishes would be cursed. The issue here is not simple exclusion but also includes the idea of protection. I must emphasize that the protection in view here is spiritual or covenantal more than physical.
I've recently reviewed Josephus' The Wars Of The Jews and was once again struck by the chaotic nature of the period A.D. 66 to A.D. 70. It seemed that the Jewish nation suffered from a collective insanity during that time. It reminds me of a line from the Two Towers where Theowden wonders "what can man do against such reckless hate?" In the midst of that chaos the church was protected in that it was kept in relationship with Jesus Christ no matter what kind of material are physical circumstance they might experience. In other words, there were many Christians who lost their lives in a generation following the ascension of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, they were protected because they were in Jesus Christ. Their covenant relationship with God in the Messiah assured them of true protection.
In any case, the wise girls are only different from the simple girls in that they were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. This is where we should place our focus. All else seems to be a vehicle for presenting this one point.
It's not so much as they were prepared for a long wait as much as they were just prepared. Everything was in place. All was taken care of and they had no worries concerning the length of time that might pass until the bridegroom showed up. Certainly Jesus points out that his calming in judgment against apostate Israel would be sudden but he is not concerned with the amount of time that will pass between his ascension and the conclusion of the old covenant age. Again, the primary issue here is that the five sensible girls were prepared regardless of any other consideration.
This may point to some degree to a ethical consideration. The song "give me oil in my lamp" has always reminded me of our duty to shine forth the truth of the gospel through our behavior. Although that is a consideration I don't believe that is the primary idea that Jesus has in mind.
And yet, this is supposed to be an encouragement to the disciples. In other words this parable is supposed to give them a sense of confidence that if they are prepared then they will be kept safe no matter what physical circumstance they might find themselves in. Because this is an encouragement we cannot exclude the idea of behavior as part of the preparedness. In other words, the behavior of the disciples would help them remain confident of their salvation.
I have said before that one of the best ways we can grow in our assurance of our salvation is to live a life that is pleasing to our Savior Jesus Christ - to walk even as Jesus walked. The reason Jesus the Man remained firmly rooted in his relationship with the Father is that he never wavered from a life of obedience. It is when we drift away from the ethical demands that he places upon our life that we began to have doubts about our relationship with him. If we want to remain confident and to know that we are prepared then we can cultivate that assurance by cultivating the new creation. This would be part of what the disciples need to keep in mind. The condition of preparedness would rest upon their intellectual assent to the truth, the heartfelt conviction and an imitation of Jesus Christ. All of this of course would be undergirded by Jesus Christ and energized by the Holy Spirit. In no way with this true faith and upon the abilities of the disciples.
We have seen again and again in the parables of Jesus Christ as certain actions are brought to the fore. The parables tell us that the true followers of the son of God bear fruit, expand all for the kingdom, forgive freely, except the invitation to be part of the kingdom, and except for the wedding clothes offered to them. To have oil is to have an objectively quantify relationship with the Messiah. In other words you have oil in reserve is to be prepared and to be prepared is to have a relationship with the Messiah which is observable. Again, true faith is to have understanding to be convicted of heart and to produce the fruit of godly action. In other words, we are to walk even as Jesus walked. As the apostle John says:
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)
Therefore we are not finding something which does not exist in the parable when we suggest that part of the preparedness was to be living a life that was pleasing to the Messiah: preparedness includes obedience. Again, that doesn't mean that their being prepared depended upon their actions; it means that their actions would give them confidence that they were truly prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. And so to have oil in my lamp and keep it burning, burning, burning is to produce a good witness for the Messiah. Action is certainly not everything; it is, however, a part of the whole. This parable (coupled with the next), was designed to give warning to the elect to steer them down the path of confidence concerning their salvation.
Moreover, this parable was designed to inform those who the Holy Spirit had illuminated (recall Matthew 13:11). Since this parable was directed to the apostles alone it serve to inform them and to warn them, and, as we have seen, a warning of this sort serves to turn the elect away from the peril. And the peril would be placing confidence in something other than Jesus Christ as a means of preparation.
Thereby, when the bridegroom comes the sensible girls are invited into the house (that Universal House of Abraham), based on a confirmed relationship with the bridegroom. That door to the universal house was open for generation in a semi-exclusive fashion. I say semi-exclusive because certainly the gospel was preached to all nations in the years after Christ's ascension. Nonetheless, as the apostle Paul said the gospel was to be preached to the Jew first and then the Gentile as that old covenant age was coming to its conclusion. To enter that door was not merely to go to heaven but to transition from the old covenant and the old creation to the new covenant and the new creation. That time of transition – the time of the already but not yet – took longer than many had expected but when it was complete that door was closed.
So, to be prepared for the end of the old covenant age was to be in relationship with the Messiah. It required intellectual ascent, heart felt conviction and action. It required faith in the last Adam and submission to his will. This is to be prepared - for anything.
In contrast the simple versions were not prepared. They tended the wedding ceremony, they had lamps with them, they nodded off and eventually fell asleep – just like the sensible girls. However they did not bring any additional oil with them. They were just plain unprepared. Therefore when their torches would not remain lit they asked the sensible girls for some other oil. However the wise virgins tell them that there would not be enough for the both of them so they must go to the marketplace and buy oil for themselves. I guess we can view this as trying to get religion at the last moment. They see the need but by the time they realize their lack it is too late.
By the way, to buying to sell is often used in the Scripture to depict religious activity. Look at Isaiah 55:1–2:
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
We see the same kind of thing in Revelation 3:17-18:
Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Revelation 3:17-18)
Indeed we saw something not unlike this in Matthew 13:44–46 where Jesus portrays the incalculable value of the kingdom by the willingness of the treasure seeker and the pearl merchant to sell all that they own in order to buy what they so desperately desired. Thus, the Bible will often use the activity of buying and selling to illustrate worship and religious practice. True religion – relationship with God in the Messiah – is to buy a good food, clean clothes, medicine and so on.
In any case, the simple girls go to buy oil (get religion). The sensible girls tell them that they're unable to share. In other words you can't ride the coattails of another person and somehow slip into the kingdom. You can't keep your torch lit on the strength of family ties, national affiliation or ethnic origins.
Apparently these simpleminded girls believe that their participation in the wedding procession entitled them to a place in the bridegroom's house. In other words, the Jewish people believe that because they were part of the chosen people of God then they were certainly going to be included in the messianic kingdom. However, they failed to understand that to be part of the chosen people of God still required that a embrace the Messiah as the only way to relationship with the Almighty. In other words, to be part of the visible Church was not adequate. Indeed, the visible Church – Israel – was part of the problem.
They had been called to act as a priestly nation and to guide all of humanity in proper worship of the Creator. However, they were unable to do so and therefore the need for Jesus as the true Israel.
Therefore they run to buy oil but they're too late. When they return to the house of the bridegroom they find the door shut. Their unpreparedness caused them to be shut out of the kingdom of God.
Once again I must emphasize that the inclusion in the kingdom as presented in this parable is not about eternal life. In this context it is about the security of relationship with God in the Messiah no matter what might happen in this realm. Believing Jew and nonbelieving Jew alike would experience the chaos of the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66 to A.D. 70 but only those Jews who had embraced their Messiah would have the confidence that all things were working out according to the plan of the Father in heaven. Only those Jews who recognized Jesus as the Christ would rest in the fact that all of God's promises to Israel were fulfilled in the carpenter from Nazareth. To do otherwise would be to face the end of the old covenant age unprepared. A new race of man arose out of the ashes of Israel at the end of the old covenant age and that race became the favored people of God: a favored nation grafted into the root of Israel in Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10, Romans 11:17, Galatians 3:16, 26-29).
We discussed the comprehensive nature salvation previously it so I won't go into detail here except remind us that the salvation of God is not limited to the hereafter. Like the salvation offered by the Roman Empire (peace and security), true salvation in Jesus Christ has temporal ramifications. Indeed, those unprepared Jews were the ones who placed faith in the salvation of the Roman Empire rather than that of God. When Jesus Christ was crucified they called out "we have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15), and refused to acknowledge Jesus as their true king. Because they relied upon in the status quo and could not believe that God would ever allow the nation of Israel to come to an end they were not prepared for the closure of the old covenant age. Their hope for solvation was in man and not in God.
True salvation is a participation in the Israel of God and this is only accomplish through a relationship with the Messiah. This salvation renders one confident regardless of the circumstance they may face. Christ does not have the rapture into heaven in mind with this parable. Instead he is concerned with his follower's participation in the new reality of the messianic reign. Those who are part of that messianic reign realize that even if they face physical death they are safe, having been brought in to the house of the bridegroom. Those who were not prepared would find that when confronted with the terrific hardship of the conclusion of the old covenant age that there would be no solace available to them from God. Christ said that to reject him was to reject the Father John 15:23-24, and more). Therefore in a time of desperate need the unprepared you would knock on the door of the kingdom and find that the Lord would declare he never knew them. In other words they would have no peace that passes understanding. The aspect of salvation that Jesus has in mind here is that Holy Spirit inspired fearlessness even in the face of diabolical turmoil. The key here is the safety of being on the inside, behind secure doors as opposed to being on the outside in the night.
This is a profound spiritual truth not merely a material or physical condition. Many members of the new covenant family would be killed in the upheaval which heralded the closure of the old covenant age. Those events are described by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24 and recorded in great detail by the Jewish historian Josephus. Even though that was a very dangerous time the salvation provided by the true Israel, Jesus Christ, allowed those who had prepared by coming under the authority of Jesus Christ to rest secure.
Jesus is not promising removal from the chaos that was to engulf Palestine within a generation of his speaking this parable. Instead he promised that even in the midst of that calamity those who were prepared could look forward to a safety and security that transcended anything offered by the kings of the world. Thus,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
That is the promise of this parable. Not removal from the scene of calamity in war-torn Jerusalem. Not a rapture from the world just in the nick of time. Instead is a promise of the peace and security of inclusion in the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.
Conclusion and application
How is your supply of oil? You know if you have adequate oil for the duration? Do you have peace in the midst of life's turmoil? Do you view tribulation with joy, as a means of growing more like Jesus Christ? Are you looking to Jesus Christ for you solace in times of hardship or do you hope for a hand up from Caesar?
Although this wasn't the main focus in Jesus parable I don't want to neglect our eternal condition. So, are you prepared to meet your maker – even this very night? Anyone of us could meet with death at any moment. None of us should believe that we have unlimited time in which to be prepared to stand before the judgment seat of the Lord. Death may come when unexpected. Our eternal destiny remains an issue of great importance. Heaven or Hell: that is the critical question.
So I ask you again, how is your supply of oil? Is your faith a compound of intellectual assent, heartfelt conviction and action which imitates the Lord Jesus? As we've seen from previous parable's intellectual assent and heart felt conviction can be deceiving. The seed on the rocky soil and the seed in thorny soil both appeared to take root and grow but in time they were revealed to be merely an intellectual grasp that was warmed by the action of common grace. We cannot forget that ritual participation in the "visible Church" is not enough. . Hence, I invite you to examine your own heart and life to be sure that you are not placing faith in something other than the faithfulness of Jesus. I also encourage you to reach out to others who may be placing their confidence in ritual observance and to share her the truth of the gospel with them as well.
If we want to know that our supply of oil is adequate then we must be those who produce the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). These are given to us as evidence of our salvation and as a means of assurance that our destiny lies in the hands of the father. It is in the cultivation and the demonstration of the rule of the Messiah in our life that our assurance of salvation grows.
I encourage you to seek out and enjoy God's salvation in all aspects of your life. In Jesus Christ you are prepared to face the lash of sorrow or loss or disappointment. In Jesus Christ you can find peace even when life seems to be destroying you, falling apart around you in your relationships, financial circumstances, health or any other aspect of the material realm. God gives safety – and meaning and purpose – even to those things.
Any work that we accomplish in cultivating and manifesting the new creation is a gracious gift of God. Any godly actions we produce are the product of the Holy Spirit performing them through us. It is Jesus Christ who animates us and the Spirit who empowers us to desire his well and to perform it. There is no better evidence of our preparedness then a walk that is in imitation of Jesus walk. So I encourage you to be prepared. Be confident of a preparedness by cultivating and demonstrating the rule of Jesus Christ your life.
For there is safety and salvation in relationship no matter what we face. To matter the outcome of our circumstance we can have confidence in Jesus Christ.