Chapter 15 – Eschatological Exodus

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Eschatological Exodus – Audio Version
The Exodus was an act of divine intervention that delivered an endangered people. And so it will be again.

To start, I should probably give credit where credit is due. The term Eschatological Exodus does not originate with me, but, as far as I know, with (the now semi-retired) Professor Richard Bauckham from Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Personally, I consider Professor Bauckham to be the most important recent and living interpreter of the Book of Revelation. Professor Bauckham may even eventually rank as the single most insightful and influential interpreter of the Book of Revelation (and similar biblical literature) in the last several centuries. Yes, centuries. I know, I know: That’s quite a big claim to make. Yet it may be both apt and true.

Although it has a rather generic title, way back in the early 1990s a younger Dr. Professor Baukham wrote a refreshingly brief, catchingly brilliant, and now-absolutely-essential scriptural study of Revelation called… drumroll… The Theology of the Book of Revelation, which will be abbreviated from hence as TBR. In TBR, Professor Bauckham identifies three primary symbolic themes that recur throughout the Book of Revelation: 1) The Messianic War, 2) The Eschatological Exodus, and 3) The Witness of Jesus. Nowhere is the second symbolic theme, the Eschatological Exodus, more prominent within the Book of Revelation than Chapter Fifteen. To quote Dr. Bauckham regarding that theme:

In 15:2-4 the Christian Martyrs, victorious in heaven, are seen as the people of the new exodus, standing beside a heavenly Red Sea, through which they have passed, and singing a version of the song of praise to God which Moses and the people of Israel sang after their deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Exodus 15).

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 71.

To be something of a fastidious stickler, I will mention here that while Professor Bauckham identifies the triumphant throng as “Christian Martyrs,” Revelation Chapter Fifteen itself does not use either descriptor. Those who are have triumphed over the Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name are called neither Christians nor Martyrs in Chapter Fifteen. Dr. Bauckham is making a slight interpretive move (quite understandably) when he designates the heavenly throng as Christian Martyrs. I will explain why I am taking issue with his subtle interpretive move in a few paragraphs. But as it is, I am getting ahead of myself. We ought to start at the beginning of the chapter with Verse One.

We are not supposed to miss that the Wrath of God is imminent and impending here.

Here in Verse One we are put on notice of utterly terrifying things to come. John, the narrator, sees a sign in Heaven: He sees seven angels with seven final plagues. The Wrath of God is about to be dispensed in seven sequential measures upon the Earth. Hitherto in the Book of Revelation the Wrath of God has not been dispensed on the Earth.

For those who harbor doubts as to whether the Wrath of God has been withheld prior to this point in the Book of Revelation, a quick word study of Wrath and God will yield the following seven references in the Book of Revelation: 14:10; 14:19; 15:1; 15:7; 16:1; 16: 19; and 19:15. I interpret the two references to the Wrath of God in Chapter Fourteen as synchronous with (happening at the same time as) the terrifying events that come with the outpouring of the Bowls of Wrath in Revelation Chapter Sixteen. I would encourage the especially studious to read through those seven wrathful references; and will boldly suggest that if they do so, they will most likely come to the same conclusion: The Wrath of God only begins when the Bowls are poured out, one by one.

Verse One, therefore, lets the reader know that the outpouring of the Wrath of God is about to commence upon the Earth. But nonetheless, our vantage point is still up in Heaven. We are witnesses to what is happening in Heaven Above immediately before all Hell breaks out on Earth Below. Remind me then: What is happening in Heaven? Verse Two gives us the scene and tells the tale.

The Harps of God must be symbolic of something, I believe.

A celebration is happening. A concert is happening in Heaven Above. There is singing and rejoicing. It is a time of Triumph, an occasion of celebration.

Does that not strike you as somewhat strange? I mean, although all Hell is about to be unleashed on Earth, the seaside throng in Heaven is celebrating some sort of victory. Why is that? What is going on? Who are these triumphant harpists in Heaven?

We are told that the celebrants in Heaven are those who have triumphed over the Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name. From henceforth I will refer to that nefarious trio as the Notorious B.I.N.N.

Bauckham says that these triumphant celebrants are Christian Martyrs. He is only kind of right about that. The problem is that you might misunderstand what he means with those two words. Christians are not necessarily those who loosely self-identify as such, but those who are really redeemed, the truly faithful, the steadfast Saints throughout the centuries and millenia. And the Martyrs are not necessarily those who have died for their faith, but include all those who have kept the faith and maintained their witness for Christ Jesus. That is because the word martyr originally just meant a witness. In contradiction to the very esteemed Professor Baukham, then, I want to suggest that in Chapter Fifteen we are seeing an even bigger crowd. The throng of triumphant celebrants in Heaven includes not just Christian Martyrs in a narrow sense, but all the Saints through the centuries, right up until the Second Coming or Advent of Jesus Christ. I do mean all of them, every single one, including you and me, hopefully.

The Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name

To identify the size and compostion of the throng, the Notorious B.I.N.N. serve as perhaps the most important clue. One reason why the Notorious B.I.N.N. are mentioned here is because they will appear in their ultimate and worst incarnations right at the very end of this current common era.

For the sake of clarity, I need to explain what I mean by “the end of this current common era.” When I was a child, the historical timeline was usually divided according to the abbreviations of B.C. and A.D. But for better or worse, that chronological division has since changed. Now the abbreviations B.C.E. and C.E. are used more commonly to divide the timeline. And what do those abbreviations stand for? B.C. once abbreviated “Before Christ”; and A.D. once abbreviated Anno Domini, which translates from Latin to “in the year of the Lord.” To avoid the implicit Christian chronological assumptions of B.C. and A.D., sensitive souls in Academia made a switch to B.C.E. and C.E. over the last 35 years or so. As you may know, B.C.E. abbreviates Before the Common Era, while C.E. abbreviates the Common Era. So now, with this timeline revisionism explained, I will hereby assert and solemnly affirm that according to Revelation Chapter Fifteen this Common Era will come to an abrupt end with the return of Christ, the return of Christ for the Church. When Christ comes back for the Church this current Common Era will end ubruptly. Perhaps, then, the loss of the B.C. and A.D. abbreviations was not actually a loss, theologically speaking. One might argue that Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, actually begins when Christ returns for the Church.

So then, Revelation Chapter Fifteen shows us the scene in Heaven Above immediately after the current Common Era ends. In Chapter Fifteen, Christ has come. The Church has been lifted from Earth and has arrived triumphantly in Heaven. The throng beside the Sea of Glass is celebrating their escape from and Triumph over the Notorious B.I.N.N. and all their persecutors on Earth Below. Just as the Children of Israel were miraculously delivered from their Egyptian enemies through the Red Sea, so all the Saints of God will someday be miraculously delivered from their enemies through Resurrection and Rapture, when Christ himself returns to claim his Church.

And so, moving along to Verse Three, the Trimphant Celebrants are said to sing a particular song of deliverance – the Song of Moses, the Servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb.

The Song of Moses, because an Exodus has occurred. The Song of the Lamb, because Jesus has delivered them.

If you were to cross-reference Revelation’s Deliverance Song with the original Song of Moses in the Book of Exodus Chapter 15, you might be struck by the comparative similarities and the differences. While both songs celebrate the amazing saving deeds of God, the Original Exodus Song is almost entirely ethnocentric and expresses hostility towards neighboring nations, whereas Revelation’s Exodus Song refers to God as the King of the Nations, and affirms that all the nations will ultimately come and worship God. Given its Anno Domini timing and its heavenly setting, this affirmation is intriguing, because it might allow some measure of hope for eventual salvation, even for those who have been left behind, the inhabitants of the Earth who are about to endure the Wrath of God.

A Post-Miracle Song of Praise

And yes, with the phrase “left behind” I am affirming the reality of the Rapture here. The Eschatological Exodus is the Rapture. They are one and the same event. Revelation Chapter Fifteen show us the scene in Heaven Above immediately after all the Saints, and the entire Church, leave Earth Below. To be honest and fair to Professor Bauckham, I think he would not concur with me here. In TBR and his other books, Dr. Bauckham does not equate the Eschatological Exodus with the Rapture. He just says that those who are beside the Sea of Glass in Heaven are Christian Martyrs (as opposed to all the redeemed Saints and the entire Church throughout history). My question for him and for those who follow him would be how Chapter Fifteen fits in its wider narrative context. As I see it, the reason for our disagreement is because he does not see a sequential, chronological progression from the Series of Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:6-11:19) to the Series Seven Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 15:1-16:21). I do. I see a clear sequential and chronological progression. There is an important topical excursus between the two series (from Revelation 12:1 through 14:20); but otherwise they follow each other sequentially and chronologically.

Interpretive decisions about how to divide and how to connect the flow of the narrative and the various scenes within Revelation are necessary and inescapable. Whether an interpreter sees a sequential, chronological progression from the Series of Seven Trumpets to the Series of Seven Bowls of Wrath will determine whether Revelation allows for and depicts a Rapture or not, in my estimation.

The Eschatological Exodus = The Resurrected Rapture of the Church

Plus, I believe that what Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 absolutely requires the Rapture be taken literally and seriously. It is simply what immediately follows the general resurrection of the redeemed. We ascend to meet Christ in the air. We ascend to Heaven, just as Christ himself was resurrected and ascended. We follow the same pattern set by Christ. And Revelation Chapter Fifteen gives us a brief glimpse of their/our celebration upon our arrival in glory.

But back to the passage at hand. In Verses Three and Four, we read the lyrics of the New Exodus Song. The Triumphant Celebrants in Heaven give praise to God for His marvelous deeds, question the folly of not fearing and glorifying the Lord, and affirm both God’s Holiness and the inevitability of His universal acclamation. All of this is of course fitting for what Christ accomplished through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It would be all the more fitting for what Christ accomplishes if and when he delivers us, the Church, from the final persecution of the Notorious B.I.N.N.

Marvelous Deeds, True Ways, Righeous Acts

Now we move on the Verse Five. I cannot recall ever hearing someone teach or preach from the pulpit about this particular verse. John the Narrator sees the Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony in Heaven opened. The Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony has a nice alliterative ring, with its triple Ts, an alternative translation being the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle of Witness. Significantly, the Church is often called a Temple or a Sanctuary in the New Testament. And I do suggest that the Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony in Heaven is the Resurrected Church while it resides in Heaven. Here John the Narrator sees the Raptured Church as a Temple or Sanctuary. He witnesses its inaugural opening in Heaven. Based on Old Testament passages regarding the inaugural opening of the Tabernacle and the Temple (see Leviticus 9:22-24; 1 Kings 8:11; and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3), we ought to anticipate something awesome is about to occur. And so something does.

What is the Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony in Heaven?

At the Sanctuary Church’s inaugural opening in Heaven, seven angels resembling priests emerge, dressed in their Sabbath finest. They have business to attend to.

Sharply Dressed

The angel-priests are dressed immaculately in clean linen and golden sashes. You might even say that the seven angel-priests are dressed to kill. One of Heaven’s Four Living Creatures gives each of the seven angels a bowl, each full of the Wrath of God. The angels are about to visit Earth, where they will execute divine vengence on the Notorious B.I.N.N. and the pitiful Inhabitants of the Earth.

Bearing Bowls of Boiling Wrath

And though the Sanctuary Church in Heaven is open for the seven exiting angels, the Glory of God makes it entirely impossible for the anyone to enter from the outside (again, this refers back to Leviticus 9:22-24; 1 Kings 8:11; and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3) until after the Seven Bowls of Wrath are dispensed, each in turn. The Sanctuary Church in Heaven is thus temporarily closed to any incoming traffic. Any repentant Inhabitants on Earth must wait until the Wrath of God is entirely spent.

To me, the scenario presented in Chapter Fifteen only makes coherent sense narratively and historically if the Rapture occurs. With the Church off the scene, the Current Common Era comes to a close. Then the truly scary stuff commences.

Christian Chameleons

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Christian Chameleons – Audio Version

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine requested that I write a post about a section from Saint Peter’s Second Epistle. To be precise, he asked that I comment on 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is not slow to fulfill His promise (to come again (in Christ)), as some measure slowness, but is instead patient towards us because He does not wish for anyone to perish, but rather that all should attain repentance. That is what the verse says in explanation for why Jesus has not yet returned.

Slowness

My friend wants me to talk about that verse with a view to The Eschatological End possibly drawing near now, and also with a view to the tandem doctrines of election and predestination. This, of course is a breeze. It is a quick and easy assignment. Easy, easy, easy, super easy. And lest anyone misunderstand, that would be sarcasm from this blogger. No, and to the contrary, I do not deem this a quick and easy assignment at all. But because I assured my friend that I would give it go, here I go.

Okay, mi amigo, I trust you will recognize my reference to you here. Whether you have any interest in reptilian creatures or not, I am going to use a unique type of lizard to illustrate what I consider to be an important emphasis in Second Peter — that unique type of lizard being the chameleon.     

You might incorrectly guess that I will talk about how chameleons have the ability to change their color. That is a very interesting chameleon characteristic, to be sure. And if I thought about it long enough, I might be able to incorporate that curious chameleon characteristic into this post. But actually, that is not the characteristic I have in mind. Instead, I want to talk about how chameleons can see this way and that way at the very same time. My interest here is the Chameleon’s unusual ability to disconnect and reconnect their binocular vision.    

A chameleon has both monocular and binocular vision. A chameleon can focus each of its two eyes in two different, separate directions at once, or focus both of its two eyes together in just one direction. If human beings had that trait, I think it would be quite disorienting, as it would likely leave us uncertain as to what others are actually focusing on. “Look here at me, young lizard! Look just at me with both of your eyes focused together! Give me your undivided binocular vision!”

With regard to the future, I want to suggest that Christians ought to have (or at least try to have) chameleon-like divided vision, or perspective. Christians ought to keep one eye on the possible soon return of Christ, and another eye on the long-term future. We ought to live and work as if both are likely to occur, and yet simultaneously realize that only one outcome can possibly occur.

This is the bi-focal perspective that Peter’s Second Epistle presents. Since Jesus will come back like a thief (see the reference in 3:10), Jesus could come back anytime, including today. Yet we need to realize that Jesus might also not come back for a very long time (which is exactly Peter’s point about patience and waiting in verses 8-9). From what I can piece together, Old Saint Peter felt the need to write what he did because the watchful Christians of his day were beginning to feel let down and were increasingly disappointed. Initially, they were eagerly and sincerely expectant. Initially, they really, truly expected to see Jesus return, and at any time. They woke in the morning wondering if today would be the day that Jesus returned. But over time, and as more and more days passed, that eager expectation went unfulfilled over and over, and thus began to fade into uncertainty, disillusionment, and apathy.

Old Saint Peter felt the need to address why it was that Jesus had not returned.

It’s because God is demonstrating patience. God wants to save more people. That’s why. But don’t give up hope that Jesus will return, because God will eventually keep his promise. 

Nonetheless, does that inspire any confidence now? Does that well-intended, reassuring promise not ring hollow after nearly two thousand years? Given that the expectations of many generations over nearly twenty centuries have gone unfulfilled, does it not seem like an empty promise now? If the early Christians were losing their patience after less than one hundred years of waiting, is it any surprise if Christians today have lost confidence after nearly two thousand years of waiting?

We Christians give lip service to the return of Christ as a parroted credal statement. But from what I can see, most of us do not truly live like we expect Christ to return anytime soon. Indeed, if someone actually does talk and act like he or she expects Christ to return soon, we worry that person is slightly less than grounded in reality. But that has begun to change, I suppose, given the turbulence of current events.

All that said, the early Christians actually had very good reason to believe that Jesus would return in their day. And for exactly the same reason, we have even more reason to believe that Jesus will return in our day. And that reason is found clearly stated in Scripture. It has everything to do with what Jesus once said could be expected near the time of his return.

Please do not miss or overlook what I said in the last paragraph. And recognize that Jesus seemed to point in two directions at once. He seemed to point to the events of the first century as a reliable indicator of his imminent return. Thus the Christians back then correctly inferred that the events they witnessed (and lived through) should be interpreted as indicative of Jesus’ Second Coming. But to their disappointment, Jesus did not return back then — which inevitably confused and concerned the early Christians immensely, and understandably so. Was Jesus reliable? Was Jesus wrong? Was Jesus mistaken? Did Jesus mislead them? 

Peter wrote his Second Epistle to address that growing sense of disappointment. Peter assured them that no, Jesus was not wrong. God’s promise was still good. It was still valid. Jesus would return. He has not returned yet because God is patient and desires salvation for even more people. But Peter’s reassurance did not explain exactly why Jesus seemed to have pointed to their own day and time. The answer to that seeming contradiction would come in another book of the Bible, the last book.

Indeed, one of the primary reasons the Book of Revelation was written was to explain the confusion of the two times. The reason why Jesus seemed to point in two directions at once is because he did. Jesus did just that. The time of Christ’s return will resemble the time immediately following his death, resurrection, and ascension. The End of the Church Age will mirror the very beginning of the Church Age. To repeat: The End of the Church Age will mirror the very beginning of the Church Age. If you grasp that, you will be able to discern the times and seasons with much more clarity. One of the primary reasons Revelation was written was to interpret, explain, and expound upon the delay of Christ’s return. And that is a crucial insight, one you should not forget.

Revelation reveals that the desecration and demolition of the physical Temple in Jerusalem in the first century will be paralleled and mirrored by the desecration and apparent demolition of the Spiritual Temple in and as the New Jerusalem (that is, the Church) in the final days immediately before Christ’s return. The varied symbolism of Revelation reveals that. The desecration of the Temple is how and why Jesus pointed in two historical directions to talk about his return. From the vantage point of when he spoke (in his eschatological comments found in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21) Jesus pointed to the generation that was there then, and simultaneously pointed to a far future generation. Both the immediate generation and a future generation needed to understand that the desecration of God’s Holy Temple would be for them the sure indication that the End of the Age had come. From my reading of the eschatological material in the New Testament, I contend that Jesus meant to parallel the physical assault upon the Temple in 70 A.D. with a similar spiritual assault against the Church immediately before his Second Coming. The Book of Revelation gives more prophetic details about the period of time immediately before and after that final spiritual assault upon God’s Holy Temple, which could well be the Church.

But what about the question of election and predestination? Does God really desire the salvation of everyone, as the Apostle Peter appears to say in 2 Peter 3:9? If God really does wish to see everyone saved, how are we supposed to understand the tandem doctrines of predestination and election? According to the Great Reformer John Calvin, the Doctrine of Predestination implies that God has pre-determined to save some, but not others. That is the correct way to understand Predestination; right? In responding to this here, I will be somewhat loose and sloppy. From what I can tell from Scripture as a whole, predestination does not apply primarily to individual persons (as Calvin taught) but instead functions more of a corporate category. Predestination pertains especially to the corporate Body of Christ — to those who are “in Christ.” Those who have joined themselves in faith to Christ are thereby predestined for salvation and for glory. Said slightly differently, those who will respond to God’s initiative and will incorporate themselves into the Body of Christ (the Church) by faith are thereby predestined for salvation and for glorification. As for Election, I would say that The Elect are those who remain faithful. The Elect are those individual Christians who maintain their confession and keep the Faith. The Elect are those who remain steadfast and faithful, those who finish the course that God sets before them. Again, for the sake of brevity, this overview is somewhat loose and sloppy. But nonetheless, it is an accurate synopsis of how I see these two tandem doctrines. And yes, I probably ought to go into more detail about this topic in a future post or in future posts. 

For now though, back to Chameleons. Like Chameleons, Christians need to keep a ready, watching eye on events that might indicate the nearness of Christ’s return. And I wholeheartedly believe that we are increasingly witnessing events indicative of Christ’s near return. At the same time, we need to keep an eye on scriptural passages like 2 Peter 3, which caution us to take the long view, and call for determined perseverance. Therefore, we must watch like he might return while we are yet alive. And at the same time, we must labor like his return will occur long after we have each individually died.  

Bridesmaids, Beware

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Foolish or Wise?
Bridesmaids, Beware – Audio Version

Sometimes what comes immediately before and what comes immediately after explains that something in between so much better. A frustrated reader can spend hours or even more trying to figure out what a section or particular passage means, but to no avail — none whatsoever. Sometimes the reader’s real problem is the immediacy of his focus, or rather, the narrow constraint thereof. And by reader I happen to mean me. And by a particular passage I happen to mean Matthew 25:1-13, a passage which is otherwise and more catchily known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins, or else, the Ten Exhausted Bridesmaids, or perhaps, the Ten Sleepy Lasses.

For a very, very long time, I could not figure out what Jesus was trying to teach his listeners in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In my vigorous self-defense, I will point out that most other interpreters (at least those I have read) come across as equally clueless. This is a parable, after all. Parables can be problematic, an interpretive headache. Parables contain a variety of symbols that can be quite slimy and slippery. Still, you might think by now interpreters would have figured it out. You might think.

Jesus, always a masterful storyteller, here tells the story of ten young women — ten virgins — who “went out to meet the bridegroom.” The bridegroom would be Symbol Number One of the parable. Thankfully, Symbol Number One is easy enough to figure out. The Bridegroom is — drumroll — Jesus himself, upon his return, his second-coming, his parousia. We know this because the New Testament often symbolizes Jesus’ parousia as a wedding, with Jesus as the groom and the Church as the bride (for example, see 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7 and 21:9).   

The story goes on: Five of them are wise lasses, while the other five are foolish lasses. But just who are these maidens, really? And is it anachronistic to think of them like the bridesmaids we see in weddings today? Who exactly is symbolized as these ten virgins? See? It is getting trickier and more slippery already here at Symbol Number Two.  

The story goes on: In case they must wait for the Groom past dark, the five foolish virgins do happen to bring some lamps along, but somehow fail to bring enough oil for their lamps. The five wise virgins also bring their lamps, but have the foresight to bring some extra oil. 

So here we have a few additional parable symbols: darkness, lamps, and oil.

Oil Lamp

To their disappointment, the Bridegroom’s anticipated arrival is delayed well into the night, and so all ten of the bridesmaids get drowsy and fall asleep. At midnight, the ten bridesmaids hear an urgent, awakening cry, “The bridegroom is here!” They all get up and grab their lamps. Though still groggy, the five wise bridesmaids are ready to meet him, with their lamps now lit and with adequate oil. But sadly, the five foolish lasses are caught unprepared and off guard. Their lamps sputter and start going out, because these five foolish bridesmaids did not prepare adequately by bringing enough oil.

Perhaps if this parable were updated for today, the bridesmaids’ situational crisis might be that the batteries for their mobile phones get weaker until they died. And no battery chargers were brought.      

The five foolish lasses then turned nervously turn to the five wise bridesmaids and said, “Hey, we have a problem. We are in a bit of a fix here. We need some more oil. Please share some of yours with us; okay?” But the five wise bridesmaids respond by saying, “OMG! So sorry, but we really don’t have enough for both you and ourselves. Maybe you should hurry out to the store, and go buy some of your own.”

While the five foolish lasses were away to buy more oil, the Bridegroom and his party arrived. The wise bridesmaids who were ready and waiting found themselves totally caught up in the happy moment, and thus completely forgot about the foolish lasses. The entire bridal party then accompanied the bridegroom to the wedding reception, except, of course, for the absent foolish lasses. No one waited around for them to return. They were left behind.

Finally, the foolish lasses found their way to the banquet hall. But when they attempted to get inside the reception, the bridegroom himself went to the door and turned the irresponsible bridesmaids away, saying, “Sorry, you foolish, negligent bridal attendants, but I do not know you.”

And thus it ends, with Jesus warning his listeners to watch, for they are ignorant of the day and the hour (of his appearance). And so we are. And yet we must watch. 

Watch for what, Jesus? How do we know if we are watching like we ought to watch? How do we know who the wise bridesmaids actually are and who the foolish bridesmaids are? In the end, how can we avoid being the un-admitted foolish bridal attendants? You want us to be wise and not foolish: That we do get. But what does this mean for us in practice, Lord? 

If the parable is to be understood, the interpreter obviously needs to explain the symbolism. 

For a long time, I got stuck in the oil, or on the meaning of the oil. I supposed that if I figured out what the oil symbolized, that would take me a long way towards a correct interpretation. But I had gotten ahead of myself, or ahead of the symbolism of the parable, since I had not actually figured out who the bridesmaids were. I had erroneously assumed that the ten bridesmaids were just ordinary Christians, some of whom were wise, and some of whom were foolish. But, as it happens, that ain’t right.

Eventually, it dawned on me: The parable is actually missing a key character, an all-important character. That character is the Bride. In this parable, the bridesmaids are not the Bride herself. They are instead attendants to the Bride. They are her designated servants. They are the bridesmaids. 

Someone at this point may second-guess my interpretation. And I understand why that someone might second-guess my interpretation. Someone may think, “But the passage does not say that the ten virgins are bridesmaids. That’s just your contemporary understanding of it, based on your ethnocentric cultural experience of weddings nowadays. Your interpretation is both ethnocentric and anachronistic.”

And initially, I might be inclined to concede my erroneous interpretive ways. I might defer to that castigating someone, if not for the two passages that sandwich the Parable of the Ten Virgins.       

In the passage immediately before, Jesus talks about two servants, one of whom diligently takes care of his underlings, and the other who abuses his underlings. This is easier to understand. Jesus is talking about leaders who are entrusted with the care of their Master’s populace. Some are good and faithful; others go bad and start abusing their Master’s people.   

In the passage immediately after, Jesus talks about servants who are entrusted with their Master’s resources. Some make wise and diligent use of their Master’s resources and are subsequently rewarded. Others are less diligent, but receive a due reward. One, though, is entirely negligent, and receives a fearsome punishment rather than a reward.

Crucially, all three passages are speaking about the same thing: the faithfulness of appointed leaders in their respective roles. The bridesmaids are actually church leaders. Their assignment is to give light to the Bride of Christ, though she goes unmentioned in the parable. The foolish bridesmaids fail the Bride the worst the very moment she need them most. They let the fire go out before the Groom arrives. They give no light to the Bride. This particular interpretation might seem to be a stretch, if not for the passage that comes immediately before and the passage that comes immediately after. Jesus is speaking to just one topic, the rewards or the punishment that await his appointed servants based on their degree of faithfulness in serving him and his Bride, the Church.     

An astute family member of mine pointed out that Jesus does something very similar in Luke 15: He uses three consecutive parables to illustrate his one point there, which is just how graciously and lavishly God responds to genuine repentance.

Back to this parable, then. The bridesmaids are church leaders entrusted with preparing and teaching the truth of God’s Word. The wise bridesmaids are diligent and faithful in preparing and teaching the truth. The flame of the Holy Spirit continues to shine where they serve because they persist and continue to present the pure truth of the Word, especially in the darkest hour. The foolish bridesmaids have also been entrusted with the solemn responsibility of presenting the truth of the Word, but they fail to do so adequately, and thus the flame of the Spirit is extinguished where they serve. Ultimately, because they have failed to do their part in keeping the flame of the Spirit lit, the foolish bridesmaids themselves are denied entrance into the Kingdom. They are left behind and shut out. Terrifying.

This is sobering stuff. Bridesmaids, beware: You are responsible to continually light the way for the people of God. Give me oil for my lamp; keep me burning. Give me oil for my lamp, I pray.