Jesus once told a story about ten virgins waiting to meet a bridegroom and join a wedding procession (Matthew 25:1–13). The groom is unexpectedly late. Anyone who’s attended a wedding knows that ceremonies sometimes start later than anticipated, but in the parable, there is a significant delay. Hour after hour slips by. Then darkness falls, and the virgins fall asleep. When they suddenly awake at midnight, we learn that only five have prepared for the delay with sufficient oil, while the others must rush out to buy more for their flickering lamps.
Notice what happens next: “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:10–12, NKJV, emphasis added).
Those who were ready went “with him.” I do not want to rush by this detail because something as seemingly insignificant as our notion of what God is like can ruin us. In fact, it caused the foolish virgins to lose the lamps that were designed to guide them in the darkness. Though all ten virgins had oil, only some were sufficiently prepared to meet the bridegroom as a true companion and friend.
Who were the ones he never knew? The bridegroom represents Christ and we the chaste virgins (2 Corinthians 11:2). The most profound question is how well do we know the bridegroom? The foolish, ill-prepared virgins represent those who do not know Christ. What does it mean to know Him? Is it merely intellectual knowledge? Must I pass a specified amount of theological questions to get in?
According to theologian and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “knowing” someone includes both intellectual and emotional closeness (The Prophets, p. 70). Some enter with God, while others remain in the darkness on the other side of the closed door. The difference lies in knowing and being “with Him.” Going in with Him has a deep personal undertone. It’s a joyous affair. Yet how does one come to know another who has been long absent and seems far away past the stars? Deep emotional closeness with an absent God is not easy to achieve. How can we forge a relationship with a distant God as we continue to wait for Him?
An intimate relationship with God is truly non-transferable. The foolish did not enter the wedding because they lacked the resources to make it through. The parable is about being ready to be with the bridegroom. It doesn’t teach about doctrinal correctness but about the behavior we should all manifest in our daily practices. Most important is properly understanding God’s character. The door closed on the virgins because they did not know the groom. The key message is that if we fail to study God’s character or hold communion with Him, we become strangers to His joy. We end up closed out of the wedding with the all-loving groom!
How can we prepare in advance to ensure we have sufficient resources to endure the passing hours of delay? We may think that God is trying to keep us out of the kingdom or will do bad things to us like burn us in hell, and we may fear facing an eternity of His wrath. Such distorted perceptions of an ungracious God, however, will only harm us. God is a tender and lovely bridegroom who is worthy of our affection. Does the character of a loving God pervade all our beliefs? Do we know and love Him? Do our perceptions of the bridegroom drive both our emotions and actions? The wise went in with Him because they knew the bridegroom. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3, NKJV). The best way to know God is to learn what Jesus is like (John 14:7). God looks like Jesus and that is really good news!
Relationship experts tell us that intimacy takes time. During this lengthy period, we need a stored supply of lasting love and fidelity, which comes from getting to know the bridegroom. In the end, some will hear God say, “I do not know you—I never had a relationship with you.” I do not want to be among those who are turned away, as that would mean missing out on the greatest opportunity to be with a gracious God who has my best interests in mind. I do not want to miss this unspeakably wonderful eternal wedding. I aim to be ready to join the joyous occasion because I long to be with Him.
Craig Ashton Jr.