* November 23 - 29
Hope and "The Delay": Part 1
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 25:1-13.
MEMORY TEXT: "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" (Matthew 25:13, NIV).
KEY THOUGHTS: Though it may be difficult to continue to hope in the "time between," the story of the ten virgins makes it clear that we need to be ready and prepared and not to lose hope. We are in the waiting time, and hope is what keeps us alive until the coming of the Bridegroom.
REFLECTING ON THE SITUATION of waiting for the Advent, James White commented, "The position of suspense is not the most happy one."Life Incidents (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1868), vol. 1, p. 337. The "waiting time" is one of tensionliving between the "already" and the "not yet"the "already" being Christ's death in our behalf that is already complete, the penalty for all our sin already being paid, and the reconciliation between God and humanity already being accomplished, as opposed to the "not yet," the Second Coming, when all that Christ had accomplished at His first coming is brought to fruition.
In this study we will examine the parable Jesus told about the waiting time and how we should react to this "position of suspense" and understand what God wishes us to do.
*Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, Nov. 30.
Sunday November 24
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet. 3:3, 4).
The wreck, eroded with rust, rotted in an empty, unkempt field, its tail fins testified to the glory of another era. Stripped by hoodlums who, if caught in their act, would have been out of jail long ago, the car was so old that even the birds had abandoned it. The only signs of life near it were a prickly bush that had grown up through a hole in the bottom of the trunk and a few scattered weeds that had circled the wreck like some sort of macabre garden. The car's front bumper carried a sticker with a message that, though worn with age, faded and eroded by the weather, could still be seen, and it said"Jesus is coming soon!"
Jesus is coming soon? How soon is soon? After all, it has been almost two thousand years since He left the first time, and we are still here.
It was the apostle Peter, in the New Testament, who predicted that "there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet. 3:3, 4).
Well, Peter, according to your contemporary, John, Jesus did promise to "come quickly" (Rev. 22:20) and that was about... 1900 years ago; and, after all those centuries, things are kind of well, continuing "as they were "; thus, to be fair, Peter, the scoffers do, it would seem, have a point.
Or do they? Though some verses seem to indicate the nearness of Christ's return, even in Bible times (see Rom. 13:12; 1 Pet. 4:7), others indicate that it could, indeed, be a long time yet coming. The parable that we focus on this week, that of the ten virgins, makes it clear that the Bridegroom will be " 'a long time in coming' " (Matt. 25:5, NIV; see also Matt. 24:48; 25:19). The question is, How then do we, those who are waiting in that time, maintain our hope during this period? What should and what shouldn't we do? This parable gives some answers.
|Look again at those verses in 2 Peter for today. What was Peter saying that should, almost two thousand years later, strengthen our faith in the promise of Christ's return and the hope that is contained in it? In other words, in what ways do his words show that the "delay" is nothing unexpected?|
As we read this parable, we must understand it in the context in which it was given. It comes immediately after Jesus' answer to the disciples about the signs of the end. Thus, Jesus is talking about the Second Comingand our relationship to this dramatic and conclusive event. He had just finished explaining all about His return. But like most of us, the disciples needed some help understanding what He meant.
Read the parable (Matt. 25:1-13). Ignoring the details, focus, instead, on its basic message. If you could describe its message in one word, what would it be? Write down the word and then explain why you chose that word:
Notice, too, other similarities between the women: They all took their lamps, they all went out to meet the bridegroom (so they all were expecting him), they all became drowsy, they all fell asleep, they all woke up at the announcement of his coming, and they all trimmed their lamps. From the outside, they all pretty much looked and acted alike. To anyone watching, there would not seem to be much difference between them.
They were all living in anticipation of the Advent hope. All were hoping for and, indeed, expecting and waiting for the bridegroom to return. These women, then, represent Christians who not only expect Christ's return but make preparations to meet Him. None of them, not even the foolish ones, represent those professed Christians who do not believe in a literal return of Christ or those who believe His coming is so far off they do not make any preparations for it.
|Look again at the basic characteristics that all these women share. How do those characteristics represent our church today? What outward things are we doing or possess that seem to match the attributes of all these women?|
All the women in the parable fell asleep. What does that mean? What does that tell us about the Lord's foreknowledge about the state of His church?
The fact that all the women fell asleep doesn't seem to be presented in this parable as the problem, for even the wise ones snoozed. The Lord, obviously, knew the impact that His timing would have upon His people (more proof that the "delay" isn't really a delay). In fact, if He had come when they had expected Him, then all would have been ready, because all would have had enough oil in their lamps, and there would have been no need for this parable.
Jesus, however, knowing that His followers would grow tired awaiting His return, used this parable to warn us that even in our weariness, even in the long delay, we need to be prepared for His coming, we need to be ready so that when it happens, we have enough "oil" in our lamps.
What does the oil and the light and the lamp imagery represent? (See Ps. 119:105; Zech. 4:1-14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:14.) Why are all needed? What good is oil without a lamp to burn it in, or what good is a lamp without oil? And how can one have light without the other two elements?
Although on the surface all looked the same and even had some of the same experiences (all, in fact, had oil, light, and lamps), the women were different in what really mattered, and that was in being prepared to meet the bridegroom.
Obviously, Jesus is warning here that without the Spirit of God, we can know some truth, but that is not enough. However much the Spirit (oil) works through the Word (the lamp) to bring truth (light) to a person, even to the point where that person awaits the Second Corning, more is needed. Those who have not surrendered themselves in faith and obedience to the Lord will suddenly, in the time of crisis, find themselves unready and unprepared for the event.
|Notice that the only difference between these women is that some had more oil than others. They took extra. What does that mean, in a practical sense? Suppose you have studied this parable and felt convicted by it; what can you do to change your life so you will have enough "oil in your lamp"?|
"'With that the girls all got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, "Our lamps are going out; give us some of your oil." "No," they said; "there will never be enough for all of us. You had better go to the shop and buy some for yourselves." While they were away the bridegroom arrived' " (Matt. 25:7-10, NEB).
At first glance, this situation seems strange. Would it not have been a Christian gesture of kindness for the wise girls to share their oil with those so desperate in their need?
But from the story, it is clear there would not have been oil enough to light ten lamps. So why give oil to another and then have your own light go out? It would make no sense.
What essential message is contained in the refusal of those to give others of their oil? (See also Ezek. 14:14, 20.)
The parable shows that the "oil supply" is personal. It cannot be transferred. This applies to spiritual aspects of our relationship with Christ. Salvation is no more transferable than bloodtype. The same with hope. You cannot take your hope and implant it into someone else. Hope has to be personally experienced, personally believed. This is the "oil of gladness" (Heb. 1:9).
In Israel, oil was a much-valued commodity. So, too, taking oil as the symbol of hope and salvation, we have a great need for oil. More than anything, this is what is required in the church and in our individual lives.
The "position of suspense" was not easy for any of the girls in the parable. But those who were wise made sure they had supplies of oil; they maintained their hope. So when their hope was realized, they were ready.
|Of course, as the parable shows, we cannot give others the things
they need to be prepared for Christ's return. But does that mean we cannot
do something for them? Whatever the parable is saying, it is not saying that
we need to neglect the spiritual needs of others, that the spiritual welfare
of others is not our concern, or that we need to keep our own lamps filled
with oil at the expense of others. What can you do to help those around you
get enough oil for their lamps?
Notice what the bridegroom said to the women who were not ready to meet him: "'"I tell you the truth, I don't know you"'" (Matt. 25:12, NIV).
Wow! I don 't know you! How could Jesus, who knows all hearts (John 4:17-19; 8:7-9; 1 John 3:20); Jesus, the express image of His Father's person (Heb. 1:3); Jesus, the One who made and upholds the worlds (Col. 1:16, 17)how could He say to these women that He did not know them? See also Matthew 7:23.
What did Jesus mean when He said "I don't know you" or when He said to others "I never knew you"? What point was He making? Look up these following verses, summarize what they are saying, and see how they might help us understand the point that Jesus was stressing in Matthew 25:12.
Gen. 4:1 ______________________________________________________
Hos. 4:1 _____________________________________________________
John 17:3 ____________________________________________________
Know in the Bible does not mean just head knowledge; it is not merely the ability to recite a list of facts. Instead, it can take on a relational aspect, one that's reciprocal. Adam "knew" his wife; this meant, obviously, more than just having a few facts about her stored in his head. Thus, the words of Jesus to these women seem to imply that there was no relationship between them and Him, one through which He could work in them His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Matthew 25:13 makes the meaning clearer. What Jesus is saying is that you always need to be ready, because you don't know when I am coming. And the essence of preparedness comes down to "knowing" God, not just a bunch of facts about Him but a knowledge that comes only from a relationship with Him, one in which He could rightly say to you, Come in, for I know you.
With this concept of what it means to "know," could you honestly say that God "knows" you? Do you have that kind of relationship with Him? If so, write down why. If you cannot say so, what changes need to be made so you can?
FURTHER STUDY: Please read Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Oct. 24, 1893; The Upward Look, p. 89.
"Those who profess to be waiting for the coming of Christ, are represented in the parable by the five wise and the five foolish virgins. The wise virgins had oil in their vessels with their lamps; they had their lamps trimmed and burning, and were ready to go out and meet the bridegroom. But the foolish virgins had no oil in their vessels; and when the solemn cry was sounded, they were found unprepared, and could not go forth to meet the bridegroom. Many profess to be wise; but have they the Holy Spirit? As a people, we profess to know the truth, but of what avail will this be if we do not carry out its principles in our life? How many say, 'Oh, yes, the coming of Christ is at the door. The end is so near that there is no time to carry the message to those who sit in darkness. There is no need of spending money on foreign work; for the end will come before it will be accomplished.' Is this the way that you carry out the injunction of your coming Lord, to preach the gospel in all the world for a witness to all nations? It is your business to be ready for the coming of the Lord, and you cannot be ready while failing to carry out his commands. There are some who seem to feel no responsibility concerning paying their tithes into the treasury of the Lord. They withhold from Him who has given them everything else, the small portion He has named as His own. They say they cannot see that it is their duty to pay tithe; but there is no reason why they should not see it, except that self is before their eyes."Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, Aug. 1, 1892.
SUMMARY: Though time continues, we need to keep watching for the fulfillment of our hope, for "it will surely come" (Hab. 2:3). The parable of the ten virgins helps us to see that this is not a time of idle waiting but of preparation. Jesus' call is to remain faithful to our hope and to "Watch!"
Inky blackness gripped young Prakash as he lay prostrate on his sleeping mat. Silent tears traced patterns on his sallow cheeks. "Oh Ama, I hurt so badly! Help me!" he cried to his mother.
Prakash's mother crept silently to his side. "Son, I don't know what to do." Her voice sounded tired. Her son had been sick for years. How much longer would it go on? "If only we were Christians, all would be well," she whispered. "Christians have magic that makes them well when they get sick." She lighted a candle and sat silently beside her son until he fell asleep.
Slowly Prakash's health and strength returned, but the strange illness left him the size of a seven- or eight-year-old. Sadness further engulfed the family when Prakash's teenage brother, then his small sister, died. Life seemed so cruel.
Prakash grew up and married. Because of his small size, it was difficult to find work that would support his family. One day Prakash learned that some Christians lived in a nearby village. He recalled his mother' swish and decided to visit them. Perhaps they could help him. A nurse who ran a clinic and visited the sick told him about Christ. Prakash wanted to learn more about the Christian God. But to do that he had to go to India, for he could not study religion freely in his homeland.
Prakash and five others were baptized and returned home to their village. They met quietly in their homes to avoid problems. But in spite of their precautions, one Sabbath the police burst into their meeting, took their Bibles, and arrested Prakash and three others.
While he was imprisoned, Prakash's wife had to work hard to feed herself and their young son. After a year Prakash was finally released from prison. But his joy was short-lived, as his wife died, leaving Prakash alone to raise his young son. Then he and several other owners of small farms were swindled out of their land. The others who lost their land could find work on tea plantations, but Prakash was too small to get such work.
Prakash married a woman who had lost her family during an epidemic. Together they are working for God and their family, faithfully sharing their faith as they are able.
Pray for Prakash and the other believers in their homeland, where freedom of religion is not yet a reality.
Hannah Z. is a pseudonym for a missionary wife who is working in a Hindu country.
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