The parable of the ten virgins (see Matt. 25:1-13) was introduced by Jesus in the context of eschatology. Matthew 24 is largely an answer to the disciples' question, " 'What will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?' "
(Matt. 24:3, NKJV). Jesus proceeded to give various "signs of the times," including warnings of false messiahs and prophets, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and so on.
One of the signs of the times was that the church, generally speaking, would be asleep in the last days. I say that because Jesus, having just warned the disciples of not being ready for His coming, immediately added, "'Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom'" (Matt. 25:1, my italics). This indicates that at the time the church should have been ready for and expecting the second coming, the church was asleep.
I am particularly interested now in Jesus' comment that all the virgins, wise and foolish, were asleep in the very last days. I hope there are exceptions to this, but the strong indication of these words is that you and I are going to be found sleeping in the very last days.
There are three obvious observations about sleep. First, you do not know you are asleep until you wake up. How many times have you lain down on the couch and said to yourself, I am not going to take a nap, I just need a few minutes to rest. Then, suddenly, you are aware you just fell asleep. You do not know you were asleep until after you wake up. This is sobering to me. Am I asleep as I write these lines? Are you? Could it be that we all have been affected by the wickedness around us and have become lackadaisical?
Could it be that we are so out of touch with what grieves the Spirit of God that He is not telling us how He feels? Could it be that we are so obsessed with our particular theological or eschatological points of view that we are more concerned about defending our cherished positions than we are expecting the second coming itself? Could it be we are not moving in the direction of the sovereign Redeemer? To recall Jonathan Edwards' caution, the task of every generation is to discover in which direction the sovereign Redeemer is moving, then move in that direction.
Second, when we are asleep we do things in our dreams that we would not do if we were wide awake. Have you ever awakened after sleep and, recalling what you dreamed, said to yourself, I would never do anything like that if I were awake? Psychologists tell us that our dreams are possibly unexpressed wishes or fears. In any case, we all do things in our dreams we would be horrified for people to know about. I know what it is to wake up and think, I am so glad that was only a dream.
But when we are spiritually asleep, we are the same way. The sharp edges of our convictions are dulled. We begin doing things we once said we would never do. We make excuses. We tell ourselves that our old points of view were misconceived, not born of the Holy Spirit in the first place.
We watch certain TV shows and movies and read certain magazines. Would you mind if the whole world could eavesdrop on your exploring of the Internet? Would you mind if the whole world could watch a video replay of your conversations in the last 30 days? Would you be unashamed for them to see how you spend your money or time? Or how you speak to the opposite sex? (Of course we now live in a time when speaking to the same sex for some would be just as suspect.) When we are not totally walking in the light of God (see 1 John 1:5-7), we find a way of justifying what we do—which we would not do if we were truly awakened by the Holy Spirit.
Finally, when we are asleep we hate the sound of an alarm. We want to shut it off, roll over and sleep on. We don't want to be disturbed. Dare I ask, how much is your own preaching aimed to keep people in their comfort zones? Do you read books that will justify your present state so you need not be disturbed or have a need to examine yourself?
The phrase "perilous times" (see 2 Tim. 3:1) is so apt for our age. We are living in truly terrible, terrible times. If we are not careful we will fall in line with the spirit of the age and carry on as though nothing is wrong with us or our world. To put it another way, I fear that if the Holy Spirit were completely withdrawn from the church today, 90 percent of the work of the church would go right on as though nothing had happened.
Are we asleep? Are you? If the midnight cry that woke the virgins occurred this very day, how would it make you feel? Are you ready for this?
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of numerous books, including Total Forgiveness, The Anointing and The Word and the Spirit. His Web site is www.rtkendallministries.com.