Jesus' Grace-based Judgment, part 3 (preaching resource for Nov. 12, 2023)

This post exegetes Matthew 25:1-13 to provide context for the RCL Gospel readings for 11/12/2023 (24th Sunday after Pentecost). It draws on commentary from Robert Capon ("Kingdom, Grace, Judgment"), RT France ("New Bible Commentary") and Louis Barbieri ("Bible Knowledge Commentary"). This post is part of a four-part series; to access the other parts, click a number: 1, 24.


In Matthew 24:36-25:46 Jesus addresses the part of the last days that began in AD 70 and then stretch to his appearing (parousia) at the end of the age. Jesus makes his points with parables focused on the salvation and judgment that result from his presence—now in the Spirit, and yet to come in the Great Consummation that will occur when he appears bodily in glory. In the parable of the faithful and bad servants (Matt. 24:36-51), Jesus addresses the parousia, noting that it will occur when not expected because its timing is unknown. That being the case, it is certainly possible that people will be unprepared—just as happened when the flood came in the days of Noah. Then, as now, some are prepared and some are not. Jesus notes that the only way to be ready for this great event in salvation history (Matt. 24:44) is not in calculating the timing of his coming (for that is impossible, just as a thief does not announce his time of arrival, Matt. 24:43), but by keeping watch (Matt. 24:42). However, it is impossible to live on constant hyper-alert. So in Matt. 24:45–51 Jesus uses a parable to explain what it means to be ready. With this background in mind, we now move to another parable from Jesus.

"The Foolish Virgins" by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Keep Watch: the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13)

1 At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 

6 At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 9 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' 

10 But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' 12 But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' 13 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This parable continues the theme of being ready through faith. Verse 13 uses words that echo Matt. 24:42: keep watch. The scene is a village wedding, with the virgins (perhaps bridesmaids in our sense, or friends or servants of the bridegroom) waiting to escort the bridegroom in a torch-light procession at the end of the ceremony, as he brings his bride home. The lamps are probably torches made of oil-soaked rags wrapped on a stick, which would burn for several minutes before being dipped in oil again. Without a further supply of oil they would go out as soon as they were lit (v8).

An important aspect of the parable is the delay—the inference being that there will be a long time until the parousia (appearing) of Jesus (the bridegroom). Note that all ten virgins are included in the wedding party (here we see the idea of universal inclusion). Yet, all fall asleep during the long wait. Thus the point (as with the two servants in Matt. 24:45–51) is not that we should be on constant hyper-alert, but that we must have the necessary provision for the wait. This parable does not spell out exactly what that provision is, however the prior parable and the one that follows point to the importance of faith in Jesus. All the virgins are part of the wedding, yet only half exhibit this faith. Those who do not, though having been included, now exclude themselves from the kingdom of heaven (v12), a statement that echoes Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:23. 

Once again, Jesus is showing that faith in him—the King of the Kingdom of Heaven—is the sole criterion of judgment. The question is this: Do we or do we not accept, in faith, the inclusion we have been given with God in and through Jesus Christ? And here the time has come when each person’s answer is evident.


A theme throughout Jesus’ discourse in this section of Matthew is the judgment that results from his presence. All through these last days (end times) that began with his death and resurrection, Jesus is making his presence known. And people are responding—some embracing it; others simply ignoring it; others rejecting it. At this point, his presence is rather hidden. But at the end of this age, with Jesus’ visible parousia, everything will be out in the open. All will see clearly. And all will be able to choose based on this clear understanding, exercising the freedom to choose that God has granted to us all. In the meantime, we the brothers and sisters of Jesus, are called to make his presence known. We do so in acts of mercy and words of testimony. Let us be faithful in this gospel work as an expression of our trust in our Master whose parousia we await. Come Lord Jesus!