In ancient Israel, when a man and a woman were to be married, they first were bound by a year-long betrothal, during which the husband and wife were legally joined, but the marriage was not consummated. Everyone knew when the year was up, the groom would, with much fanfare, return to the bride’s home and take her with him to the house he had prepared for her.
No one knew when the groom would return. It was his father who gave the go-ahead, and while the bride waited, she readied herself. She kept her bags packed and her lamp ready to go with an ample supply of oil. Unpreparedness would have implied complacency and lack of honor to the groom. For the couple, the betrothal year was spent in joyous and eager anticipation.
We Are His Bride
In his parable of the ten virgins, Jesus used this imagery to describe the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 25:1-13). Waiting for the groom involved the bride and her attendants keeping an ample supply of oil to trim their lamps, in the event the groom returned at night. Dark lamps meant being shut out of the celebration. Dark lamps resulted in being left in the dark.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus used marriage as an allegory for his relationship to his church. Here, the church refers to the global body of followers of Jesus Christ, not a religious institution. If you believe that you are a sinner in need of a savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ, you are his bride.
The Promise of His Coming
More than two thousand years have passed since Jesus told that parable. His bride is still waiting. Many are asking the church, “Where is this messiah of yours? I think you may be mistaken.” I admit, more than once, I have been tempted to ask the same thing.
But Jesus is coming back. Based on the hundreds of prophecies and promises in the Bible that have already been fulfilled, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
So, how’s your lamp?
Five Ways to Keep Our Lamps Trimmed
John Piper describes the lamp as the trappings of Christianity— what some might call religion. “I go to church. I carry a Bible. I pray before meals. I try to keep the Ten Commandments.” The oil, Piper says, is “life, faith, hope, love, reality.” Trimming an empty lamp is foolishness. Empty religion is foolishness. And, as Piper explains, “A life of foolishness deepens foolishness.”
Here are five ways, based on Piper’s description of the oil, to keep our lamps trimmed while we wait for Jesus’s return:
We are given only one earthly life, and Christ would have us lose it completely. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). 1 John 4:4 says anyone who follows Jesus Christ “belongs to God.”
Jesus demands no less than our entire life, which is then “hidden with him” (Colossians 3:3). When our life depicts the gospel, we are keeping our lamps trimmed. When the heavens dissolve, will you have been found “alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5)?
The level at which you seek to cultivate your relationship with God is indicative of your level of faith. Regularly reading scripture, being an active part of a Bible believing church, meeting regularly with fellow believers, and filling your mind with the things of God are the soil in which faith grows.
Are you nourishing habits that produce an “assurance of things hoped for” and a “conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1)?” When we consistently demonstrate a life of faith, we are keeping our lamps trimmed. When the heavens dissolve, will you have been found faithful?
In Matthew 25, Jesus describes what it looks like to love in God’s economy.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me. Matthew 25:35-36, 40
In other words, while you waited for my return, you loved. And in that love, you showed that you love me also.
How are you loving in your sphere of influence? From motherhood to the mission field, when we love others we are keeping our lamps trimmed. When the heavens dissolve, will you have been found loving?
Romans 8:24 says we were saved in hope. But not the kind of hope that we have when we hope the weather will cooperate for our vacation, or the hope that the adoption we so longed for will come through. Christian hope is a sure hope. It is an eager anticipation of a secure future with Christ, as adopted children and heirs to his throne. It is a hope without wondering if.
To what extent do you anticipate the return of Jesus Christ? Have you allowed complacency to dull your sense of hope? When we possess a sense of eager expectation, we are keeping our lamps trimmed. When the heavens dissolve, will you have been found fervently hoping for the appearance of Christ?
The hope in which we live is “folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). But this hope in which we live is more real than anything our senses can apprehend in the temporal world.
C.S. Lewis became a Christian while seeking to debunk Christianity. But in the end, after extensive research meant to affirm his atheism, he concluded, “Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”
Does your life reflect your belief in the reality of heavenly things? When we regard heaven as more real than earth, we are keeping our lamps trimmed. When the heavens dissolve, will you be found to have been grounded in the reality of the gospel?
Jesus is coming. Today or thousands of years from now, the Giver of oil has an endless supply to ready his bride for his impending return. May we all keep our lamps trimmed.