AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
In our last lesson, Jesus launched into a very long speech which has been dubbed the Olivet Discourse due to the fact that Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives at the time He’s talking. This is a private meeting between Jesus and four of His disciples: Peter and his brother Andrew, and John and his brother James. These two pairs of brothers were the ones who got up the courage to ask Jesus why He made some upsetting comments about glorious Jerusalem and Yahweh’s magnificent Temple being reduced to rubble. In response to their inquiry, Jesus launched into a long prophetic speech about the end of the world. Talk about a case of TMI. The disciples were looking for some assurance, and what they got was a horror story. Jesus says that the Romans are going to rise up against the Jews, annihilate Jerusalem and the Temple, and drive the Jews into exile. There will be an epic tribulation, during which Jesus’ followers will find themselves having a particularly miserable time. Jesus prophesies that His disciples will be arrested, tortured, betrayed by their own families, and even executed. This is an extremely upsetting information download, and one that would undoubtedly paralyze the disciples with fear if Jesus didn’t give them some reason for hope. So Jesus does. To counterbalance their dread, He says that this terrible period of tribulation won’t last long at all. In fact, before the current generation of folks dies off, Jesus will be making a theatrical return to earth. He’ll come down from the sky just as the great prophet Daniel foresaw, and He’ll whisk His faithful followers off to their eternal reward. So, yes, all hell is about to break loose. But it won’t last long at all. In fact, Yahweh is going to cut it short intentionally for the sake of His faithful ones.
Now of course Jesus is totally lying about how soon He’ll return. But by promising to come back during the lifetime of folks who are alive on the planet at the time He’s giving this speech, He convinces the disciples that their upcoming ordeal will be manageable. When we humans think we can see the finish line in front of us, we find it much easier to persevere through misery. Jesus has drawn a fictitious finish line in front of His disciples, and He now continues the bluff by firing off five parables that all teach the importance of being ready for His return—a return that He knows none of these disciples will live long enough to see.
Now the truth is that any of us could die at any moment. You could die before you even finish reading this post. If you did, would you be ready to face your Makers? As soon as our souls are removed from this earthly dimension, we will all face judgment for how we responded to our Gods while we were here. From our perspective, physical death is when our Gods bring our souls to meet Them, whereas the Second Coming is when Jesus comes to fetch us. Either event marks the end of our time on earth, and the end of our chances to submit to our Makers in this unique first chapter of our existence. Any event which marks the end of our time here is significant, and it’s important to realize God hasn’t made us any guarantees about how long we’ll be here. We could all die at any moment, and it is quite rare for God to tell any of us when our deaths will occur. So is it important that we remain spiritually alert? Absolutely. Should we be making an effort to not leave any unfinished business between us and the Holy Spirit? Definitely. But even though the bottom line principle of “Be ready to meet your Makers” applies to all souls everywhere, Jesus isn’t talking about the general concept of dying in these parables which He’s about to tell. Instead, these five stories are specifically describing His Second Coming, and by telling these stories to four of His disciples, He is continuing the deception that His glorious return to earth will occur in their lifetimes. It won’t. Jesus is lying. But our Gods do lie whenever They feel it is beneficial to do so (see Communicating with God: Why He Lies).
1. THE PARABLE OF THE WATCHFUL GATEKEEPER
“The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: Be on the alert!” (Mk. 13:33-37)
2. THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD & EVIL SERVANTS
“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 24:45-51)
The master in both of these parables represents Jesus. In the last one, that part about a servant getting cut up and thrown into some place of anguish is a picture of eternal damnation. Notice how Jesus is intentionally making His return sound like an imminent thing. One parable would have sufficed to get the point across, but Jesus is talking to Jews, and in Jewish culture, if you really want to make a point, you need to keep saying it over and over again. So Jesus keeps coming up with more metaphors that are all making the same points. God knows what we’re doing in His apparent absence. The choices we’re making now will have eternal consequences. Once Jesus leaves, He’ll be back soon, suddenly, and unexpectedly. So the disciples need to be ready.
3. THE PARABLE OF THE TEN BRIDESMAIDS
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’
All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’
But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’
But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’
But he called back, ‘Truly I say to you, I don’t know you!’
So you must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of My return.” (Mt. 25:1-13)
Why does the bridegroom in this parable refuse to let in the bridesmaids who were obviously with the wedding party? Because they weren’t ready according to his schedule. The bridegroom represents Jesus. Obviously Jesus knows who we all are, because He is one of our three glorious Creators. But as God, Jesus defines what the rules of the game will be. Just as Yahweh didn’t ask for our permission before changing up His Covenant with us, Jesus doesn’t offer to discuss our eternal judgment. Judgment is something that our Gods will cast down onto our heads. We cannot talk Them into rewarding us, nor can we talk Them out of punishing us. Our Gods judge alone and Their judgments are final. So when you hear people today planning to sweet talk their way into Heaven, realize that you’re listening to spiritual idiocy. No, God really isn’t going to be asking for your feedback regarding His assessment of you. Divine judgment isn’t like a job review on earth which we’re given the option of contesting. It isn’t like these laws that get overturned in American courts one month after they are passed. Our time on earth is the only time we’re given to meet our Gods’ requirements for salvation. If we blow it, there won’t be another opportunity. There will only be Hell.
4. THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
It’s interesting to note that the famous Parable of the Talents is actually part of the Olivet Discourse. Like the other parables in this speech, the Parable of the Talents is focused on being ready for sudden judgement. In this parable, Jesus emphasizes what a fair and gracious Judge God is by describing how generously a human master rewards two servants who serve him well in his absence. But when a third servant intentionally shirks his duties and then accuses his master of being mean in character, that servant is hauled off to a dark and scary place.
“‘Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!’” (Mt. 24:30)
5. THE PARABLE OF THE SHEEP & THE GOATS
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit upon His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in His Presence, and He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at His right hand and the goats at His left.
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? When did we ever see You sick or in prison and visit You?’
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed Me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite Me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give Me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit Me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help You?’
And He will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:31-46)
This is the end of the Olivet Discourse. It will also be the start of a lot of anxious striving unless we stop and clarify some things about what our Gods expect from us. After all, if we take these parables too literally, we’ll come away thinking that our behaviors matter more to God than our soul attitude. Then we’ll say that the fellow who passes out sandwiches at the homeless center is clearly more pleasing to God than the fellow who is refusing to sign up for some ministry at church. Soon we’ll be labeling everyone who’s trying to wait on God as a spiritual slacker and applauding those who are serving for the wrong reasons. Sound familiar? This isn’t any good. It is our soul attitudes that God cares about, not our external actions, and Jesus has been preaching this all along. But when we don’t step back and look at the whole picture, it’s easy to veer off course.
To interpret any passage of Scripture correctly, we have to start with who God is talking to. In the Gospels, we find Jesus mainly talking to three groups of Jews: the general rabble, those who claim to follow Him, and rebellious preachers. Do you know who we don’t find Jesus talking to? Mature believers. Souls who are hardcore devoted. By now we’ve learned that even Jesus’ incrowd of twelve disciples aren’t going to win any prizes for spiritual commitment. The fact that Jesus spends so much time expressing His exasperation with their lack of faith demonstrates that they aren’t trying very hard to apply themselves. We can certainly understand why. These are patriotic Jews who are much more concerned about the Roman oppression than they are with pleasing God. They see Jesus not as a second God, but as a human who has been anointed with some extra portion of Divine favor. Jesus is Yahweh’s chosen Messiah. Jesus is the Guy who is going to make Israel a world power and get the Jews their homeland back. No one is submitting to Jesus as God yet. It’s more like they’re sucking up to Him as the Guy who can hook them up with some major perks both in this life and the next.
The important point for you to understand is that if you’re seriously concerned about pleasing God, you’re probably well past where Peter, James, John, and Andrew were in their spiritual development at the time Jesus is telling all of these parables. Jesus isn’t talking to mature believers anywhere in the Gospels. He’s mostly talking to spiritual infants and hardened rebels. Now and then He has some two second conversation with a soul who is really trying, but we don’t ever hear Him getting into deeper spiritual insights.
The teaching Jesus puts out in the Gospels is mostly baby food. It’s spiritual basics. He’s intentionally avoiding many topics that are critical to succeeding with God because no one is ready to receive them. He’s also accommodating a lot of false beliefs about how God operates. If you don’t realize He’s doing this, you’ll end up with a lot of wrong ideas about how things really work. For example, the Pharisees taught people to believe that Satan was some kind of powerful ruler over the world. He’s really not, and yet Jesus says:
“The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.” (Jn. 12:31)
Why does Jesus talk like this? Why does He refer to Satan as a ruler when He knows that Satan doesn’t rule over anything? Well, think about the alternative. If Jesus had said, “You Jews are deluded. Satan is a pathetic speck. He doesn’t rule anything,” would that have really been effective? No, it wouldn’t.
There are certain realities about human learning patterns that we need to face up to. Even when we think we’re receptive to learning anything God wants to teach us, we’re really not. The Trinity doctrine, for example, is a load of baloney. But if you say this to Christians, do they respond by saying, “Interesting, I’m going to have to pray on that”? No, they call you a heretic and close their minds to anything else you might say. It’s the same when you talk about God’s sovereignty or the fact that He lies. Even the most sincere souls will be quick to shut down on God if He drops too many upsetting truths on them at once. So He doesn’t. Instead, God eases us into new concepts in small baby steps.
The Jews all believed that Satan was some big player in the spiritual realms. Rather than get into a useless argument with closed minds, Jesus talks as if their delusions are correct so He can direct their attention onto other things. It doesn’t really take three days for body and soul to separate after death, but the Jews thought it did, so Jesus used this delusion to His advantage when He raised Lazarus and Himself back to life.
Yahweh does similar things in the Old Testament. Sometimes we find Him scoffing at the notion of idol gods being real. Other times He refers to those same gods as being very real and responsive to what He’s doing. When speaking to pagan Babylonians who were fiercely devoted to their fictitious god Bel, Yahweh doesn’t say, “You guys are a bunch of dolts for worshiping figments of your imaginations.” Instead, He says:
“I will punish Bel in Babylon. I will make him vomit what he swallowed. The nations will no longer stream to him; even Babylon’s wall will fall.” (Jer. 50:2)
Since Bel isn’t real, how can he throw up? He can’t, but by talking within the context of the Babylonians’ spiritual foolishness, Yahweh gets the point across: He’s the superior Power.
Audience matters. God takes into account the spiritual maturity, superstitions, soul attitude, and cultural perspectives of the folks He is talking to, then He adjusts His language accordingly. All of this means that when you hear some pastor saying that “God is talking to you in the Bible,” you need to realize that your pastor is wrong. God most certainly is not talking to you in the Bible—He’s talking to someone else, and that someone else was probably in a very different place than you are spiritually, which means God won’t be talking to that person the same way He’d talk to you today.
So much needless angst occurs when sincere Christians read passages in which God is reaming out rebels and then they apply that idiotic rule of “God is talking to me in this passage.” God doesn’t chew out His obedient kids, but God is rarely talking to obedient souls in the Bible, which is why so many of the passages are rather acrid. In our study of the Gospels books, we’ve found Jesus to be quite crisp, hostile, ill-mannered and irritable. Why is this? Because most of the time He’s talking to people who are irritating Him. Who does God find irritating? Souls who are refusing to submit and listen to Him. Is that where you’re at with God today? If it’s not, then stop trying to direct Jesus’ caustic tone at yourself, because you’re not who it’s meant for.
MANGLING THE COVENANT
When we look at the string of parables Jesus fires off in the Olivet Discourse, two troublesome themes immediately surface. First, He makes salvation sound like some uncertain thing which can be lost through bad behavior. Second, He makes it sound like we have to earn God’s favor through good works. Since neither of these things are true, how are we to make sense of this? Once again, the answer is audience.
Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh was clear that soul attitude is what He cared about, not good deeds. During the Old Testament, the Jews didn’t give a flip about what Yahweh wanted, and so we find Him constantly reaming them out. But by the New Testament, suddenly we find the Jews entrenched in a phony pretense of caring oh so much about pleasing God. The problem is that the religious leaders in Jewish society—those pompous Pharisees and snooty Sadducees—have cooked up a complete reversal of truth. They are preaching that God only cares about external works and that soul attitude is irrelevant. They strut around defying God in their hearts, yet claiming to be perfect in His sight simply because they tithe generously, pray eloquent prayers, and make sure never to eat unclean foods. Jesus’ Jewish followers have been heavily influenced by this wrong theology. Everyone’s lost sight of how important soul attitude is to God, and instead they’re all judging each other by their works. So when Jesus describes Himself in Heaven approving of folks who did good deeds, like feeding the poor and being kind to strangers, He’s talking within the warped understanding of God’s requirements that these Jews had. They think Yahweh is all about works, and Jesus describes folks with lots of good works being approved of in Heaven, while He describes folks who never did good works getting condemned. Yep, this sounds right to New Testament, Old Covenant Jewish ears. But is it really how God works? Not at all.
We mustn’t lose sight of what Jesus’ point is in saying these particular parables. He’s urging His disciples not to grow slack in their devotion to Him. At their early stage of spiritual development, they think devotion to God means slaving to do good works. Fine. If they’d thought devotion to God meant picking a bunch of apples, Jesus would have described apple pickers as being rewarded in Heaven. Right now, He’s focused on one goal: convincing His disciples that Divine judgment is fast approaching and they need to make sure they are ready. This isn’t a lecture on how Divine judgment actually works (Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy). These four men are reeling from the news that horrible things are about to happen to them. Jesus is countering their fear by insisting He’s coming back soon, but He wants His return to be viewed in a proper light. He’s not just the buff Messiah who came to fix everyone’s problems. When He comes back, it’s not going to just be to pat the heads of Yahweh’s chosen people, it’s going to be to pass out Divine judgment. These disciples need to get a lot more serious about seeking God than they are. Lately everyone’s gotten so caught up in lusting after Israel’s glory days that they’ve lost sight of what matters. Personal devotion to God is what matters, and Jesus is communicating this within a framework of works theology because that’s where these four men are at. If they continue to grow spiritually, there will be time later on for the Holy Spirit to set them straight about works.
Now in real life, it’s our hearts that God cares about, not our behaviors (see Divine Judgment Q&A). When He’s chewing out the preachers in Israel who have intentionally mangled the Old Covenant requirements for pleasing God, we find Jesus talking about how worthless good behaviors are. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus is talking to Pharisees when He says:
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13)
He’s quoting Yahweh here, and He’s making the point that heart attitude is what we are judged by, not external good works. He mockingly says He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. To the Pharisees, they were the righteous ones, and everyone that they personally disapproved of were the sinners. But to God, the Pharisees were hardhearted rebels. Jesus says He isn’t calling the “righteous” because these particular “righteous” souls are totally closed to God. In other places, Jesus describes the Pharisees as being already eternally condemned by God because they are so fiercely opposed to Him. So while the Pharisees said they were perfect, God said they were condemned. When Jesus is talking to Pharisees, He uses their definition of righteous. Other times, He uses God’s definition. Audience matters. When you don’t pay attention to who God is talking to in a specific passage, you end up very confused.
So then, in real life, is God going to stand in Heaven rewarding people based on how many hours they spent in ministry? Will He condemn everyone who didn’t do visible works on earth? To put it another way: are you getting on God’s bad side by not signing up to get involved down at your church? Is He glaring down at you when you drive by that homeless guy without stopping to give him some money (see Giving to the Poor: Cautions for Christians)? As soon as you start trying to use your actions to assess your standing with God, you’re guaranteed to go astray. The Pharisees were so high off of their many good works that they were steeped in rebellious arrogance. Today many sincere Christians are so stressed about not doing enough good works that they are totally disconnected with how pleased God is with them. So what’s the answer? Stop trying to use your behavior to assess your standing with God. Forget about your actions, your failings, your lusts, your temptations, and every other body based issue. These things are irrelevant. It is your soul attitude that God is going to judge you by, and only your soul attitude.
It is a fact that God is extremely easy to please. One of the main reasons this is true is that He makes His pleasure equally available to all people. We’re not all extroverts with bundles of energy and oodles of spare time. Some of us are super shy. Some of us are depressed out of our minds and barely able to get through the day. Some of us are physically crippled. God does not give us all the same emotional, physical, mental and spiritual resources, yet still He has set things up so that each one of us can be a raving success in His eyes simply by responding well to Him on a soul level. But is this what we teach in the Church? Not hardly.
For thousands of years, the Jews have tried to claim special favor with God just because they had the right genetics. Today in the Church, we often exalt extroverts and risk takers as being better Christians than the shy and conservative. When some risk taker takes some wild gamble, he’s praised for “stepping out in faith.” But when the fellow who has been wired by God to be more conservative decides to wait for a safer opportunity, he’s mocked for having too much doubt. We always hear about how “God can’t move a parked car.” We never hear it said that “God is so pleased when you’re willing to wait on Him even as the brothers give you endless flak.” We all applaud the extrovert who goes around sharing the Gospel with anyone he meets, but we look down on the shy wallflower who doesn’t talk about Jesus because she’s, well, shy. Since God loves variety, why are we always trying to rank different qualities as better and worse? Because we’re trying to assess spiritual success by externals. It’s by fixating on irrelevant things like ancestry, ethnicity, color, temperament, gender, and personality that we end up inventing righteous characteristics where none exist.
It’s your soul’s response to God that matters. Your soul isn’t male or female, straight or gay, Jewish or Gentile. Your soul has its own direct connection with God. He says things to your soul, and your soul responds to Him. Most of what God says to you is not a command for you to go out and do some particular behavior. Yet it’s how your soul responds to everything God says to you that you will be judged by. This means that when God says, “Honesty is important to Me,” you can either say, “Got it. Thank You for helping me know You better,” or you can say, “So what? Why should I care what You care about?” It’s the same when God tells you that He’s jealous or that He loves all people or that He doesn’t like some particular behavior. How does your soul respond to God in life? Are you treating Him like Someone you really admire and want to know better? Or are you treating Him like some annoying nag who you wish would shut up and go away? If you could pull God closer to you or push Him further away, which would you choose? If He gave you a choice between having more money in life or having a closer walk with Him, which would you choose?
There are many ways to assess your soul’s attitude towards God, and it’s your soul’s response to Him which you will be judged by. So is Jesus really going to condemn anyone on the other side for not doing enough good works on earth? No, He’s going to condemn them for their soul rebellion. He’s not going to say, “You didn’t do enough.” He’s going to say, “You didn’t submit to Me enough.” He’s going to talk about soul attitudes, not actions.
Now we need to talk about salvation. In the parables Jesus tells, He makes it sound like salvation is an iffy thing. The servant who started off accepted by his master ends up cast into outer darkness. The bridesmaids who were invited to the wedding party, end up with a door slammed in their faces. What’s going on here? Does God really let us think we’re alright with Him only to then yank our salvation away again?
Let’s start with audience. Jesus is talking to Jews here. These Jews already think they are God’s favorite people. They believe all true descendants of Abraham have some major spiritual advantage over everyone else. Yahweh never taught this, but the Jewish preachers of Jesus’ day certainly did. These Jews have a raging superiority complex. They view non-Jews as inferior in every way. So it’s only fitting that Jesus sets up parables in which folks who assume they will always be accepted suddenly find themselves rejected because they failed to respect their master.
Time and time again, Jesus has been warning the Jews of His day that simply being Jewish doesn’t do bumpkus to help their standing with Yahweh. Yahweh demands soul submission. He does not give us points for having an ethnicity which we didn’t even choose. Today there are a lot of idiots in the Church who try to say that God loves whites more than blacks. Or that He loves Jews more than non-Jews. Or that He hates gays and rich people. Some even try to argue that certain ethnicities are “the seed of Satan.” All of this is total rubbish. What happens when you try to use externals to assess spiritual things? You go astray every time. So don’t go there. The next time someone starts beefing at you about what “tribe” you’re a part of or they start making God out to be some kind of bigot, realize that you’re listening to a fool and reject their theories for the rubbish that they are. God loves all souls. No one is excluded over external issues. It’s all about soul attitude.
Now under the New Covenant, salvation is a permanent deal. Once you meet Yahweh’s requirements for salvation, you’re in for keeps and you never have to worry about being cast out. But this wasn’t how things worked under the Old Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, if you started off with a good soul attitude, but then you turned all rebellious and snarky and you refused to repent, Yahweh rejected you. Under the Old Covenant, there was no concept of “being saved” because salvation could not be obtained ahead of time. It was your standing with God when you died that determined whether He accepted you or not. God says this over and over again in the Old Testament: that if you fall away and don’t repent, you’re damned. But He also says that no matter how much of a little wretch you are, if you repent and earnestly seek Him, He’ll receive you with open arms. It’s on you to stay faithful. But since Yahweh wants you to succeed with Him, He’ll give you what you need to stay faithful. And He’s extremely generous, so it’s not like you have to be perfect. But the point is this: salvation was viewed very differently under the Old Covenant.
Who is Jesus talking to in the passage we’re studying? Old Covenant Jews. How do they view salvation? As something that you can’t know you have until you die. And thanks to the Pharisees scrambling their brains, these four Jewish men think that eternal acceptance by Yahweh has to be earned through continuous good works on earth. Knowing this, how does Jesus paint salvation in His parables? He sets up scenarios in which the guys who are rewarded are the guys who were faithful in their good works. Notice how He emphasizes that it’s the last moments which really count. It doesn’t matter that those bridesmaids stood around for hours with their lamps burning. It was the fact that they weren’t ready at the very end when the bridegroom showed up that got them rejected. It doesn’t matter if the gatekeeper is alert at his post for hours on end. He is judged by whether he’s awake or asleep when his master suddenly returns. This is Old Covenant theology: if you lose it at the end, you’re out for keeps. It’s the final moments that count, not what went on before. This is what Yahweh has always taught, and Jesus is continuing this theme in these parables which are all focused on salvation.
Okay, so now let’s talk about how it works under the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, you’re either saved or you’re not. If you’re saved, you have been eternally accepted by God, and nothing you do will cause Him to cast you out. Under the New Covenant, you might start off fully devoted, then tank into some rebellious brat, but if you die with a foul attitude, you will still go to Heaven. This is a major difference between the Covenants. It is essentially an expansion of grace, and it really ticks off a lot of people who resent the idea of their enemies making it into Heaven. We humans are very good at deciding that we personally deserve buckets of grace while we conveniently forget that the very definition of grace is undeserved favor. So no, we don’t deserve grace and those slackers and rebels we hate so much don’t deserve grace either. But God will dole out the grace as generously as He wants to and if we have a problem with Him acting like the Supreme Authority that He is, we need to ask Him to help us get over ourselves.
Today you’ll find many denominations in the Church fiercely clinging to the idea that New Covenant salvation is just as precarious as the Old was: that it can be lost, and that it must be maintained through constant confession and stressing and striving. People who teach like this don’t understand the way either Covenant works, and they’re only going to burden you with a bunch of unnecessary fear. If you have doubts about the permanency of salvation under the current Covenant, ask the Holy Spirit to help you out on this. He is the One who can give you peace about this issue, and that peace will really free you up in life.
It’s important that we gain an accurate understanding of what our Gods want from us, how They judge us, and how easy They are to succeed with. There aren’t a lot of Christian teachers who have a firm grip on these truths because the Church is so overloaded with rebellion and immaturity. If you just start looking up various views of salvation on the internet, you’ll end up running around in circles and feeling utterly confused. Christians fight fiercely over every doctrine there is, from salvation to the identity of our Gods. So if you want to get peace, there’s only one way: ask God directly to sort these things out for you and then wait for Him to do so. Sometimes God takes a while to answer our questions, but His answers are well worth waiting for. The truth will always free us up and encourage us in our walks with God, whereas lies make us feel beat down and discouraged.
So then, as New Covenant believers, what can we learn from the second half of the Olivet Discourse? Well, we’ve learned a lot about how our Gods adjust Their teaching style based on who They are speaking to. Here’s a caution for all you preachers and teachers: before you get all caught up in trying to be relevant, realize that what passes for relevancy these days is just a carnal attempt to make God’s messages more pleasing to rebellious hearts. Relevancy is God’s job, not yours. Speaking for God means passing on His message without changing it in any way. We should not be choosing target audiences and turning to statistical tables to try and guess what our congregation wants to hear. We need to stop treating God like an idiot and realize that He knows far better than we do what to say when. You are either hearing God dictate a message to you or you’re not. If you’re not, then keep your mouth closed. If you are, then don’t you dare change it. There’s nothing more obnoxious than blind creatures like us trying to improve on the messages of an all-wise God.
In these parables from Jesus, there is a strong sense of urgency. Even though we know He’s trying to psych the disciples into thinking He’ll be back in their lifetime, the principle of not knowing when we’ll meet our Makers is still very applicable to us today. We do need to be ready. But we get there by realizing how limited Jesus’ parables are. In real life, our God is not a master who has ditched us to go off on a long journey. He isn’t a bridegroom who is taking forever to show up. Our Gods are with us at all times. Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. They are constantly communicating to us. So we’re not just twiddling our thumbs waiting for our Gods to come back to us. Nor are we trying to guess what They’ll want in Their absence. The Holy Spirit communicates His will directly to our souls. We don’t have to try and read His mind. He is very clear when He wants us to do something. So while the parables in this passage would make sense to Jews who are very confused about how God operates, they don’t come close to describing how things really work. Our Gods are always with us, and we are being given countless opportunities to please or defy Them every day. If we are walking in alignment with Them, there’s no reason to fear the day we will see Them face to face, for that day will be one of the best moments in our entire existence.
In Luke 21:37, Luke tells us that Jesus has begun a predictable pattern of preaching at the Temple by day and sleeping on the Mount of Olives by night. Massive crowds are rising up early each day to come and hear Him preach at the Temple and soon there are only two days left until that famous Last Supper will take place. Once again, Jesus warns His disciples about what is coming.
“You know that the Passover takes place after two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matt. 26:2)
Meanwhile, the Jewish preachers within the city of Jerusalem are trying to think up some way that they can quietly exterminate the hated Son of a carpenter, but the fear of agitating Rome with a chaotic scene is holding them back.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus in a treacherous way and kill Him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “so there won’t be rioting among the people.” (Matt. 26:3-5)
It’s at this time that Judas Iscariot decides to make his move. Catching the chief priests in a private meeting, he asks what kind of reward they’ll give to him if he helps them get their hands on Jesus. Wow, what a rat. But then again, maybe we’re too quick to condemn this infamous traitor. After all, Judas has seen Jesus walk on water, cast out demons, bring the dead back to life, and even vanish from the midst of murderous mobs. Does Judas really think that Jesus will feel threatened by the same guys who He’s been publicly chewing out for days inside the Temple? In our next lesson, we’ll try to give Judas a fairer assessment than the Gospel writers give him. After all, Jesus is the One making everyone think He’s going to lead Israel into her glory days, yet He keeps dragging His feet. Perhaps Judas is tired of waiting and he figures trying to turn up the heat might force Jesus to get it in gear. Can you honestly say that you’ve never tried to adjust God’s timetable for Him?
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 65: Reasons to Betray
Click here for the series homepage.