Paul was a Pharisee, and as such he believed in life after death. Most Pharisees could have written this: Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death. Phillips But Paul put Jesus the Messiah into the description. Only a Pharisee who believed that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah could write, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Phillips
Paul was not attempting to describe the end of time. That was left for John’s Revelation. Paul wanted the good church people to rest assured that those who died were taken care of. We must remember that in the first decades of the church—before it was even called a church—people believed that the Messiah would return to earth in their lifetimes. As people of the faith began to die, there was fear that they would not be saved at the Second Coming. Paul makes it clear that earthly death has nothing to do with being taken up with Jesus. Paul even assured us that the dead would be first before the living.
Jesus’ parable is about the Second Coming also. His message is: be ready. At weddings in the Middle East, then and today, young women were chosen to attend the bride—today’s bride’s maids—by joining the procession through town to the house of the groom’s parents. It was a great honor and to fail could result in a woman to be ostracized, certainly for some years at the least.
For us, the punishment for not being ready is missing our place in the heavenly wedding banquet. It is like missing the last flight to Rio. The party will go on without us.
Notice that today’s parable is part of a series dealing with the return of Jesus. We have no idea when that will be, but we must be ready, and being ready is not just about waiting by the front door. It is about doing God’s work while we wait. We are not expected to do it perfectly. Jesus will make it perfect.
If Jesus were walking with us today, he might want to use the Special Olympics in a parable. On the local level, everyone is declared the winner. The one who ran the 100 meters in 12 seconds gets a blue ribbon, and the one who comes in in 3minutes and 22 seconds gets a blue ribbon.
I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to save lost souls by the thousands. I don’t have to quote Bible verses at the drop of a hat.
I need to be in the race, to show up and be ready.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.