We ended (Part One) with the thought that God calls us to be active in changing the world of suffering for all His creatures today, in preparation of Christ’s return.
What does it mean to be ready and waiting, to be wise not foolish? How might our plans change if it’s God’s Peaceable Kingdom that we’re getting ready for?
Kingdom Waiting (Matthew 25 v 1-13)
In the marriage customs of Jesus’ day, the bridegroom goes to collect the bride from her family home, before leading her in procession to the house where they will live. The bridesmaids light the way, but in the story that Jesus tells, some of them have not thought of the possibility that things might not go as expected. The couple are delayed. Unlike the wise bridesmaids, the foolish bridesmaids have not brought enough oil to light their lamps through the long wait. It is suggested that, even though it is the middle of the night, they go to the shops and buy some, as the whole village will be awake for the procession (v 9). But by the time they return with their replenished lamps, it is too late. Like many of Jesus’ parables, it carries a stark warning – only those who are ready for the Bridegroom when He finally arrives get to enjoy the banquet (v 10).
Jesus uses this parable to encourage His disciples to be ready for the coming of God’s reign in all its fullness. Matthew relates it to the glorious coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 16 v 27; 24 v 30). Both reflect the view that God’s great creation is unfinished, still to reach its intended destiny (Ephesians 1 v 9-10). God’s future is seen to be taking shape in Jesus’ ministry, with His death and resurrection as the decisive turning point (Colossians 1 v 19-20). God wants His people to live by the instructions of Jesus, by waiting hopefully and acting responsibly with lives shaped by the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospel, where He shows His indivisible love for the whole of His creation.
The Uniqueness Of The Parable Of The Ten Bridesmaids
There are several distinctive points to note when relating this parable to our Christian stewardship:
- It describes what the “kingdom of heaven” will be like at the time of the second coming – Some say that it describes the condition of the Church at the second coming. Jesus is speaking to His disciples here, not to the Jewish religious leaders or to the crowds, so this parable should serve as a warning to the Church.
- For quite some time, the five foolish bridesmaids look almost the same as the five wise bridesmaids – They call the groom “Lord” twice (v 11). They are all invited to the wedding, and they all come, expecting to take part in it. The only difference is that the five foolish bridesmaids bring their lamps, but no oil. This could apply to those who listen to the word about our responsibility to care for God’s creation, but don’t have enough commitment to do what it says “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1 v 22). “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?” (James 2 v 14).
- None of the ten bridesmaids know when the groom will arrive, and all ten sleep when He takes longer than expected – We don’t find the five foolish ones asleep, while the five wise ones are busy working. All sleep, and all are awakened by the news of the groom’s approach. We are all fallen and every one of us has a part to play in the exploitation of God’s earth and animal kingdom.
- Quite surprisingly, the five wise bridesmaids will not share their oil with the foolish ones. This is not because they are selfish, but sharing may mean that all ten will run short of oil. Whilst we are ALL called to be stewards of the earth and animal kingdom, people who have been given a special calling to be a voice for the animals will be expected to share what they know with others, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12 v 47-48), But there will come a time for those who are indifferent to the suffering of God’s creation, when it will be too late, “And the door was shut” (Matthew 25 v 10).
- The story emphasizes that once our Lord returns, there is neither the time nor the opportunity for the five foolish bridesmaids to change their ways – There is a ‘point of no return’, after which one’s failure to do God’s will cannot be reversed. The five foolish bridesmaids have their opportunity and they lose it. Now it is too late, “Later, the other bridesmaids came too, saying, ‘Lord, Lord! Let us in!’ But He replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!'” (Matthew 25 v 11-12). This goes well with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 v 21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
As Christians, we profess to attend upon Christ, to honour Him and also to be waiting for His coming. Our light must shine before mankind and the animal kingdom in good works. But this is not likely to happen for long, unless we have a fixed active faith in Christ and love for God and His creation, both human and animal. In the story, they all slumber and sleep. The delay is said to represent the space between the real or apparent conversion of these professors, and the second coming of Christ. The wise bridesmaids keep their lamps burning, but even they do not keep themselves awake. Too many real Christians grow remiss, especially when it comes to our stewardship of creation and ‘turn a blind eye’ to the massive suffering of animals in the modern world.
Although most people are aware to some extent, of the suffering involved in factory farming, or animal experimentation for instance, a common reaction when faced with the facts is, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to hear about it.” Is this a truly compassionate or Christ-like reaction? Those who allow themselves to slumber, will scarcely keep from sleeping. The startling summons given, “Go ye forth to meet Him” (Matthew 25 v 6), is a call to those prepared. The notice of Christ’s approach, and the call to meet Him, will awaken us all. Even those best prepared, have work to do to get actually ready.
Getting Ready For God’s Peaceable Kingdom
Isaiah foresees a glorious kingdom in which all creatures will return to the harmony of creation and he gives God’s promise, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain”, and His reason, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord . . .” (Isaiah 11 v 9). Christians are not to be the destroyers, but healers and reconcilers. We are to show now how it will be then in the Peaceable Kingdom, where, “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb . . . and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11 v 6).
Jesus commands us to go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation, human and animal, thus filling them with the ‘knowledge of the Lord’, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16 v 15). Obviously, the preaching of the Gospel to the animal creation must be almost entirely in practical demonstration of the Gospel. When we channel God’s love to animals, we are genuinely preaching the Gospel.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that animals are awaiting mankind’s transformation into the knowledge of God in Jesus, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed . . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God “ (Romans 8 v 19-22). When this happens, the redemption of all His creatures from the disastrous effects of the Fall will be fulfilled.
Peter tells us, in his second letter, that God is waiting for us to be ready for His return, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise . . . He is patient with you, not wanting ANYONE to perish, but EVERYONE to come to repentance . . .You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and SPEED its coming . . . make every EFFORT to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Peter 3 v 9-11). God loves us so much that He does not want any of us to perish and, by helping to build His Peaceable Kingdom, we actually speed up the time of His return.
In the teaching of Jesus, waiting is always active, never just ‘waiting around.’ Being watchful and alert includes paying attention to what is happening to God’s animal kingdom every moment, especially those trapped in such evil systems as vivisection, factory farming, bloodsports, entertainment and fur trading. And the Church especially, should not be ‘turning a blind eye’ because we “haven’t time” or because we “find it too upsetting”, but we should be speaking out against these systems. Whatever the circumstances in which we are called to live out our faith, we should always be awake to the stewardship of God’s creation, our very first job description.
What does active waiting for God’s Peaceable Kingdom look like in our lives and in our churches?
May we not be found ‘going away to make the purchase’ ( Matthew 25 v 10) when Christ returns. We should take the time now to fill our lamps with oil and take extra with us. Keep waiting and watching, actively.
Thank you for reading and following our blog! Your comments are always welcome! ~Ros