by Phil Enlow

First published in 2007, and slightly updated in 2022, this article is more and more relevant to the times in which we live. There is a growing sense that the end of the age is drawing ever nearer. What did Jesus teach on this important subject? What did He mean by, “be ready”?

Almost 2000 years ago, for approximately 33 years Jesus Christ, the Son of God, walked among us. During the last 3-and-a-half years of his earthly life he actively ministered in Israel, performing many mighty miracles, delivering God’s message to the people, and preparing his disciples for their ministry to come. The purpose for which he had come was fulfilled in his death on the cross for our sins, and then his resurrection, opening a door of hope and salvation for all who would repent and believe the good news.

Shortly before he went to the cross, he had the job of preparing the disciples for the fact that he was soon to leave them and return to heaven from whence he had come. The disciples needed instruction, encouragement — and a healthy dose of reassurance!

Accordingly, we read in John 14:1-3 these words from our Lord: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

The essence of his promise — “I will come back” — is a simple one, yet the subject of Christ’s return has been attended with a great deal of controversy and confusion over the centuries. This should not be surprising in light of the warnings of Jesus regarding deception. In Matthew 24 we find the disciples asking Jesus about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, about his coming, and about the end of the age. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were these: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Matt. 24:4.


Matt 24:24-25 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” It is the devil’s business to provoke as much unbelief and confusion as possible regarding the coming of Christ so that people might face that day unprepared.

During his time among us Jesus said a number of things about his promised return. These things have often been understood and interpreted to fit in with the many various belief systems that have arisen concerning the Bible and truth. These belief systems tend to act like “glasses” in that they cause people to read their beliefs into what Jesus said instead of seeing what is actually there. Jesus’ words are thus forced to conform to someone’s theological system.

I believe that there is a simplicity in many of the statements made by Jesus about his coming that is missed by many of today’s teachers. What would be wrong with just reading what Jesus said? Certainly not everything he said is clear and simple but many of his sayings are. Wouldn’t such clear statements be a good place to start in understanding the things Jesus wants us to know about his coming?

There are many examples of how people’s theology complicates the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching. One that comes readily to mind is the widely popular doctrinal system that has Jesus returning to earth not once, but at least three times! This system teaches a very complicated view of earth’s history and a belief in this view forces one to separate the things Jesus said and to apply them to these three different supposed comings.

Jesus simply said, “I will come back,” and he told of several things that would happen when he did. There is no hint in anything he said that he would return three times over a span of more than 1000 years — unless you already subscribe to a belief system that forces you to twist his simple words to fit into the system. Let’s take a brief look at some of these things Jesus said — and ask the Lord, as we do, to help us to remove our theological glasses and simply see what the Word says.

No One Knows the Hour

Let’s begin with a truth with which all should readily agree. No one but the Father knows when Christ will return, not even Jesus! Matt. 24:36 says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

It seems almost silly to have to make this point since scripture is so clear. Nevertheless, from time to time, someone will declare that Jesus will return on such-and-such a date and gullible souls are taken in by the deception and set up for yet another round of disappointment and disillusionment.

The simple truth is that only the Father knows — and He’s not telling! Nowhere are we promised that we can know the day and hour. Anyone who says different is deceived. Don’t listen to him. Go by the Word.

No Secret

Another truth that is consistently taught by Jesus about his return is simply this: when he comes everyone will know about it! Nothing about it will be a secret. Righteous and wicked alike will be fully aware of what is happening.

Matt. 24:27 says, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” There is nothing secret about lightning; sudden, certainly, but not secret. In fact, this scripture particularly emphasizes its visibility. Even though it flashes in one place, it is clearly seen across the heavens. See also Luke 17:24.

Matt. 24:30-31 says, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Clearly what Jesus is describing is no secret. He will come in the clouds and all nations will see him. There will be an expression of “power and great glory.” Glory is “brightness,” the kind of thing the three disciples witnessed when Jesus was transfigured before them on the mountain. Matt. 17:1-9. Angels will come with him. A trumpet — a loud trumpet — will sound.

In other scriptures Jesus confirms this picture. Matt. 16:27 says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matt. 25:31 speaks of the time when “the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.” Matt. 26:64 says, “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 8:38 says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

There are some belief systems that teach that all of this language describing Jesus’ coming is symbolic, that it will not happen literally as he said it would. However, consider what the scripture says in Acts, chapter 1.

The disciples stood with their bodily-resurrected Lord on the Mount of Olives. After they had received some last instructions, they saw Jesus begin to ascend into the literal sky until literal clouds obscured him from view. What significance is there in this? Simply this: as they stood looking up into the heavens, suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

That sounds pretty simple and straightforward to me! Considering what the angels said, why should we not simply believe it when Jesus said he would come in the clouds of heaven?

But, someone will ask, how will everyone be able to see him? The earth is round. Half of it is in darkness and half in light? I don’t know! It’s not my job to figure it out — or to worry about it. We’re talking about someone who created galaxies by simply speaking. I think he can figure out how to make everyone aware of his coming! The simple truth is this: based on Jesus’ words, everyone will know it when he comes.

Like a Trap

Another truth that comes across clearly in the words of Jesus is that his coming will be sudden and unexpected. Luke 21:34-36 says, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In Matt. 24:44 Jesus said, “‘the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” It is one thing for the world of unbelievers to be unprepared, but this scripture highlights the fact that his coming will happen at a time when even his true followers do not expect it. The only guarantee of safety Jesus gives us is simply to “be ready.” When that hour comes it will be too late for those who aren’t.

The Days of Noah

Jesus compared his coming with two historical events. The first of these is set forth in Matthew 24:37-39. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

We know from the account beginning in Genesis 6 that men before the flood had become so wicked that the Lord was determined to destroy them. However, one man, Noah, found grace in His eyes and so the Lord provided a way of escape, of preservation from the coming calamity. And so, the flood came as God had said. A few were ready but most were not. Let’s notice some of the characteristics of each group as noted by Jesus, and also in the Genesis account.

The picture Jesus paints is one in which most of earth’s inhabitants were just living normal lives, carrying on everyday activities. All of their attention was focused on natural, earthly things, doing as they pleased, gratifying earthly desires. It sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it! They lived out the presumption that life was about pleasure and that tomorrow would be like today.

But it wasn’t. One day the sun was shining: some were having parties; some got married, expecting a long life ahead of them. The very next day disaster struck — and they were totally unprepared. Left Behind? Let me ask you a simple question: what happened to those who were left behind that day? Did life just go on, with Noah and his family simply disappearing from the scene? NO! Every single man, woman, boy, and girl perished. Not. One. Survived.

Listen to Luke’s account of what Jesus taught about this: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26-27.

What happened to those left behind? The flood came and destroyed them all. How many were destroyed? All of them. Why don’t people preach this? Wherever did this totally unbiblical heresy arise that people will be “left behind” and the world will go on when Jesus returns?

Even worse is the notion that those “left behind” will have an opportunity to be saved! Where did Jesus even remotely suggest such a thing? His words are utterly clear. He will return to earth, suddenly, openly, and everyone not ready will perish.

No Second Chance

There will be no second chance. Where do you suppose such an idea came from? Not from Jesus! And yet how many preachers are there who are intentionally or unintentionally conveying to their hearers that they can “wait and see” and then get saved after the so-called “rapture.” My wife actually heard a minister on the radio awhile back say that he hoped that he wouldn’t go in the “rapture” so he could stay behind and preach! What utter nonsense! How in the world could Jesus be more clear that the only hope of surviving the coming of Christ is to “be ready”?

The people of Noah’s day weren’t ready — and they ALL perished.

Spiritual Blindness

But Jesus gives us a hint of their spiritual condition when he said, “they knew nothing about what would happen.” Matt. 24:39. How could that be? We know from 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness.” There was a period of 120 years from the time that God determined to destroy man until the flood itself. Clearly, Noah by word and deed warned men of the coming judgment yet Jesus said, “they knew nothing about what would happen.”

This is a picture of what happens to men when they close their ears to truth. Once truth is made known to men, they never remain the same. Truth received brings enlightenment — and more truth. Truth rejected leads inevitably to darkness. Even the very capacity for truth is lost.

When Jesus said, “they knew nothing,” he wasn’t speaking of simple ignorance. God had been faithful to warn them; they had just refused to listen. In John 12:35-36 Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” Notice that for the one who does NOT walk in the light, darkness overtakes them.

In 2 Thess. 2:10-12 Paul warns of great satanic deception to come and said of those affected, “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

The darkness that descends upon those who reject truth is itself a judgment of God. It leaves men totally helpless to escape a judgment that is inevitable. It’s like a man who is bound hand and foot, blindfolded, floating towards a waterfall and a drop to certain death — and yet he doesn’t have the slightest awareness of the danger. What an awful condition!

And yet it is a fruit of their own choosing to reject truth that could save them. They reject God — and He rejects them. That’s what it comes down to. Life is not about “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” It is about God and righteousness, His purposes, about reconciliation with Him. Nothing else matters.

Well before the flood arrived those who perished had been sealed in and by the darkness they had chosen. They were unconcerned about God. They didn’t believe that judgment was coming. Surely God would never do such a thing! Mostly, they were stubborn about sin, and descended into a moral abyss, as Romans, chapter 1, makes clear. In the end their condition was so fixed that there was nothing God could do but pour out judgment.

Jesus wasn’t simply giving us a history lesson. What happened then is meant to serve as a warning to us today. It is easy to see that our world today is rapidly heading down the same path. Once again, no one who is unprepared will escape. That is what is at stake: life or death; salvation or destruction — eternally.

Those Who Were Ready

But the lesson Jesus meant to convey in comparing his return to the flood of Noah’s day concerns not just the wicked, but also those who survived. What of them? What lessons can we learn from Noah and his family? What are the characteristics of those God preserved at a time when everyone else perished?

One very obvious lesson is that Noah both heard God’s voice — and he believed the message. Where others shut their ears, he opened his — wide.

And Noah’s faith was expressed through what he did. In other words, he obeyed.

In Luke 8:17-18 Jesus set forth a principle that governs what happens when men hear the word of God: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

God found in Noah one who “has” — that is, he had a heart that received God’s word — and the result was that he continued to receive needed light and instruction. Others, those who refused to listen, lost their ability to hear. It was taken from them.

Of course, hearing and believing God’s word is not a one-time thing. Noah didn’t just say, “Yes, I believe you, Lord,” and simply go on with his life. The word that came to him changed the very course of his life, permanently. He not only listened but he continued to listen — and obey.

A Continuing Relationship

There is an ongoing relationship involved: God speaks; we obey. We cease our trust in man — even in ourselves. It is not a response of abject terror and unwilling obedience that God seeks but a realization of His amazing love and grace that results in humble and grateful trust. It is a clear-cut choice to follow Him — and not the world. Life’s focus becomes centered on the kingdom of God and not on self-centered earthly concerns and desires.

And so, we see that Noah’s faith was not simply a mental thing. It resulted in ongoing obedience. That obedience was expressed in a considerable amount of labor in accordance with God’s instructions. It wasn’t Noah’s job to figure out what to do. He had but to hear and obey. Thus, readiness is not simply a passive state but one of active and continuing obedience. There is a practical side to readiness and only God knows what is needed and when.

Surely building a boat on dry ground to prepare for a flood no one else but Noah’s family believed in seemed insane. But Noah marched to the beat of a different “Drummer.” His faith in God was strong enough to withstand the mockery and unbelief of his generation. He carefully followed God’s instructions, believing His promise to save those who availed themselves of the ark. Is there a parallel today? I believe there is.

And God proved Himself completely faithful. That is also something Jesus wants us to know. There is no power that can destroy those who put their trust in him. Even if God allows believers to be persecuted and killed for their faith, nothing can separate them from “the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:39. And, for those who remain alive until that day, not only will the judgment that is certain to come upon the world not destroy those who trust in him, that day will be their ultimate deliverance from this present evil world. Even so come, Lord Jesus!

Condemnation of the World

Another observation that should be made concerning Noah was his rejection and condemnation of the world. Heb. 11:7 tells us, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Thus, we see that Noah’s faith was not only a matter of self-preservation but also a condemnation of the world and its wickedness and unbelief. One cannot be neutral in this matter. Either God is right, or the world is. No one can truly believe in and serve a holy, righteous God without simultaneously condemning and rejecting this unholy and unrighteous world. Simply put, we either stand 100% with God or 100% with the world. There is no compromise, no middle ground.

It was Noah’s obedience to God that was a continual testimony that he was on God’s side — and against the world. And remember, being on God’s side meant being in agreement that the judgment to come was right. It was the right thing for God to utterly destroy men, women, boys and girls without mercy, so great was the world’s wickedness — and, by his actions, Noah agreed.

That sounds pretty radical, but the issue is just that clear cut. Jesus said that all of those not ready will die when he comes. How do you feel about that? Is it right for God to do that? That’s exactly what happened in Noah’s day.

I’m afraid that our thinking is far too easily affected by constant exposure to man’s view of things. It is easy to suppose that such a judgment is extreme, even unjust. Surely things aren’t that bad.

But man’s view of things is totally corrupted by sin and spiritual blindness. In Luke 16:15 Jesus said, “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” One glimpse of God’s holiness was enough to cause Isaiah to see, not only the condition of men, but also his own need. Isaiah 6:1-5.

In view of God’s utter holiness, the wonder is that the world has not long since been destroyed. That fact alone is a powerful witness to God’s grace and mercy. When we all stand before Jesus on the day of judgment God’s righteousness will be completely apparent to all.

But for us today, the lesson is clear. To be ready for the Lord’s coming is to be spiritually separate from the world. We ought to be loving and Christ-like towards all men to be sure, yet our faces must be set “like a flint” towards God and His kingdom. And such a stance implies that we agree with God’s judgment of the world.

No Hesitation

The clarity of Noah’s stand was made evident when God finally told him and his family to enter the ark. There is no hint of hesitation in the account. God said, “Go in,” and they went in. His spirit was not compromised in anguish over all he was leaving behind. There was nothing he was leaving that had a hold on his heart. His heart pointed in only one direction — God-ward.

The other historical event which Jesus compared to his coming is the rescue of Lot from Sodom. The wickedness of Sodom and the other cities of the plain had become so great that there was nothing to do but destroy them. Yet He would not destroy the righteous with the wicked and so sent two angels in to get Lot and his family out.

As they were leaving, they were warned by the angels to flee and not look back. But Lot’s wife disobeyed and turned to look — and she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. Her look was not idle curiosity. She looked because her heart was back there. There were things she didn’t want to leave. She didn’t really understand or believe in the judgment that was taking place. And so, she perished — and Jesus issued the warning, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Luke 17:32.

That is one of the shortest verses in the Bible, and one full of implications for us. Where is your heart? If Jesus returned today, would you be ready to leave — immediately, and without hesitation? Would you say, “Wait, Lord, I was right in the middle of an important business deal”? or “I was just about to get married”? or some other earthly concern?

Lot wasn’t the finest example of one who followed the Lord, BUT — he did leave and not look back.

And, by the way, what of those “left behind” in the destruction of Sodom? After telling what happened in Noah’s day, Jesus said, “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” Luke 17:28-30.

When did the fire fall? The day Lot left Sodom. What happened to those left behind? The fire destroyed them all. And so, we have two historical events in which God poured out judgment as he rescued those who were righteous. Both are compared directly with what will happen when Jesus returns to earth.

Final Separation

In Matt. 24:40-41 Jesus continued his discussion of the days of Noah and, looking forward to his return said, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” This scripture points out that, although spiritually separate, those who are ready and those who are not may be physically together. That day will bring about a final and complete separation.

In Matt. 24:31 Jesus said, “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” So, we see that angels will be used to carry out the actual gathering of God’s elect and thus bring about that separation.

I don’t know exactly how that will happen, but wouldn’t it be something for the Lord to come in power and great glory and for angels to literally fan out across the globe, taking people by the hand, and ascending into the air to meet the Lord! Two men might be working together, and an angel fly up and take just one of them by the hand, leaving the other behind. Another angel might fly into a bedroom where a husband and wife are sleeping, take the wife by the hand and leave the husband behind. It is a sober thought — if you are one that is not ready.

It is often unclear to us just who is a true follower of Jesus and who is not. There will be many surprises on that day. But God knows. And He does the choosing. That is why the word “elect” is used. The evidence that one is a true “sheep” is that he hears Christ’s voice and follows. John 10:27. Others may be religious but that is not the same thing. God knows the difference. Before the fires of judgment fall, He will faithfully send his angels to gather His own — as He did in Lot’s day.

Keep Watch

Jesus gives just one instruction regarding his return to earth. In Matt. 24:42-44 he said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

The comparison is made with a thief coming to a house to rob it and the owner needing to be ready if the robbery is to be prevented. The point being made is not the secrecy of a thief’s coming but the unexpectedness. Jesus had already told us that his return would be open and universally known, as we pointed out earlier. The issues here are simply expectation and readiness.

And so, Jesus’ instruction can be expressed in just two simple words: “Be ready.” We have been endeavoring, by referring to the words of Jesus, to set forth what “being ready” means. In verses 42-44 we find that readiness involves watchfulness. Watchfulness surely implies that his coming is expected. The world does not expect him to come but those who are ready do. Even though the timing of his coming may not be expected, the fact of his coming is. And so, we are told to watch, to be spiritually alert.

Faithful Service

In Matthew 24:45-51 Jesus gives another lesson that bears on his return. In this passage he tells of a householder, obviously a rich man, who leaves his household in the charge of servants. One servant, described as “faithful and wise,” simply carries out the master’s instructions even though the return appears to be delayed. The other, described as “wicked,” takes note of the delay and “begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.” The householder returns and deals with each according to his actions.

And so, we see that being “ready” involves being faithful in service even in the face of seeming delay. What is the issue here? Did the delay cause the unfaithfulness of the second servant? Did a “saved” man somehow become “lost”? No! We see a hypocrite exposed by circumstances. What was in him simply came out. He never was a true servant in the first place.

From this we can see a picture of how it will be as the coming of the Lord draws near. The Lord will allow circumstances to uncover the true condition of professed followers. We see a heart that has never been changed and when conditions are right the true affections of that heart are brought to light.

Such a man will not be ready when the Lord returns and the end will not be good. In the illustration we see what the master of the household does: “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I fear that there will be many religious people in this category. Something about that hour, about spiritual conditions, will make their true spiritual state manifest.

The Ten Virgins

And so, Jesus continued in Matt. 25:1-13 with the parable of the ten virgins. This parable highlights what is perhaps the most tragic group of those who are not ready for the Lord’s coming.

In this parable Jesus drew upon wedding customs with which his hearers would have been familiar in order to convey truths about the time of his coming. It was customary for a group of young virgins to meet and conduct the bridegroom to the wedding feast. As this typically took place in the evening it was necessary for them to have lamps for light.

Jesus told of ten virgins who took lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Based on outward appearance these virgins were all the same: all were virgins; all had lamps; all went out to meet the bridegroom. And yet Jesus told us that of the ten, five were wise and five were foolish. The difference between these two groups lay in the simple fact that the foolish did not take any oil with them. In short, despite outward appearances, they were not ready to fulfill their role.

Due to a delay in the bridegroom’s coming, they all went to sleep. At midnight there was a cry that he was coming and that they should go out to meet him. It was only then that the foolish virgins realized their folly. They asked the wise to share their oil but there was not enough and so the request was refused.

They went off to buy oil and while they were gone the bridegroom came, the wise virgins went in to the feast and the door was shut. Later the foolish virgins came and knocked and asked that the door be opened only to be refused. The bridegroom called through the door, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” The lesson drawn is simple: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

What Does It Mean?

Jesus’ use of virgins preparing to play their role in a wedding celebration is no accident. These are not people of the world who are unaware of what is coming. Each one of these virgins, outwardly, at least, gave every indication of conscious preparation for the bridegroom’s coming.

Both that fact and their virginity signify that these are at least professing Christians, living a life of apparent separation from the world. The “virgins” probably all went to church together, worshipped together, served together, and lived lives that would have caused those looking on to count them as believers.

And yet in Jesus’ parable fully half of them were not actually ready. They looked and acted the part and yet a critical aspect of readiness was overlooked: lamps were needed, and they had no oil to enable their lamps to give light. What a foolish oversight!

It was no accident that the bridegroom in the parable was a long time in coming. Jesus wanted us to know that it will seem to those who wait that his coming is delayed beyond the time expected. That fact only adds urgency to the admonition to “watch.”

It is also no accident that the coming was at “midnight.” Midnight is the darkest hour of the night, a time when most are asleep. In fact, the virgins all fell asleep — the wise right along with the foolish. The darkness is meant to signify what spiritual conditions will be like as Jesus’ return is drawing near. It will not be a time of great revival but of great spiritual darkness. The power of Satan will reach its climax and that darkness will affect even believers — thus the slumber.

Despite that slumber, when the midnight cry came the wise were quickly able to get ready. They had both lamps and the oil to enable them to burn. But it was at that late hour, despite all their intentions and expectations, in spite of their obvious profession of being some of those waiting for the bridegroom, the foolish discovered to their dismay that they were not, in fact, ready.

Too Late!

And it was too late. There was no more opportunity. They were shut out.

What a sobering picture this is! Look around you, particularly in American churches. Do you think that everyone professing to be a Christian is one? I certainly don’t. In fact, I believe that in the gathering darkness preceding the coming of our Lord most of professing Christendom will fall away. Only a remnant will be left still waiting for his return.

And yet, even among that remnant who cling to their profession of faith we are told that many will not be truly ready. What a tragedy to come that far only to miss out! And all for the lack of oil. Obviously, this oil in Jesus’ parable was meant to signify a critical difference between the two types of virgins. After all, those with oil were received and those without were rejected.


Jesus came to earth at a time of great spiritual darkness, as Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 60:1-2. In John 12:46, Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” What was it that made Jesus a “light”? Was it his brilliant mind? His speaking ability? His charismatic personality? No! In Isaiah 53:2 we read, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” What was it then?

John 1:4 tells us, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” And that is the essence of the new covenant he came to bring through his death and resurrection. We don’t need a new and better “religion,” we need a different life on the inside than the one we received by being born into Adam’s family. What people saw and experienced through Jesus was God’s Spirit expressed through him.

That is what the foolish virgins lacked. They had everything that was “outward” but did not have the Spirit. They professed faith but had never actually been born of that Spirit. In Rom. 8:9 Paul wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Accordingly, we see the bridegroom telling the foolish virgins, “I don’t know you.”

Is it any wonder, in the light of all these teachings of Jesus, that he asked the question in Luke 18:8, “‘when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” In Matt. 24:12-13 Jesus said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” I’m so glad that, despite our weakness, God’s indwelling Spirit makes that possible! He will bring his own safely through!

One Judgment

One other clear teaching needs to be noted: there will be one judgment for both righteous and wicked alike and it will take place at the time of Christ’s coming. Earlier we quoted Matt. 16:27: “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Matt. 25:14-46 is all about the coming judgment. Verses 14-30 concern his professed servants and verses 31-46 are a picture of the great judgment scene itself. Jesus is portrayed — when he comes — as sitting on a throne in heavenly glory. All nations will be gathered before him, and the “sheep” will be forever separated from the “goats.”

In John 5:28-29, Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

Nowhere did Jesus say — or even hint — that there would be separate judgments for the righteous and wicked, as many teach. In fact, his promise to the righteous is that they would be raised “at the last day.” John 6:39-40, 44, 54. How can there be more days after “the last day”? Thus, the righteous will be raised “at the last day,” at the “last trumpet,” when the “last enemy is destroyed. 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-54. That sounds like the end to me!

Think of all that Jesus is saying: the world as a whole will be in total darkness; most professed followers will fall away (“grow cold”); and many who maintain their profession to the end will only discover the emptiness of that profession when it is too late. It causes one to wonder just how many true followers of Jesus will be left on earth when that day comes. It is only by God’s grace and faithfulness that anyone will make it! I’m just thankful that he will never abandon even one true follower.

What the Apostles Taught

These simple truths that Jesus taught concerning his coming are echoed and confirmed throughout the writings of the apostles in the rest of the New Testament. We have already noted what Paul said about the last trumpet and the last enemy in 1 Corinthians 15.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 is one connected passage about the Lord’s coming. In it we see the believer’s hope of final deliverance together with the sudden inescapable destruction of the wicked. Only two destinies are set forth: salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ or suffering wrath. His death for us is our only hope of escaping that wrath, whether we die prior to his coming or are alive at that time.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, once again, we see the “relief” for the saints occurring when Jesus comes, pouring out “blazing fire” upon the wicked. In chapter 2, verses 1-12, we see Satan’s power, having reached its climax, being crushed at Christ’s coming, which is connected in verse 1 with our being “gathered to him.”

In 2 Peter 3 we see the same picture: the wicked scoffing and following their own evil desires; a declaration of certain judgment by fire; a sense of seeming delay; the “day of the Lord” coming suddenly; the destruction of the world by fire. The believer’s hope in all of this is that there is coming a “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” Verse 13.

And Peter, who had heard the things Jesus had said in person, echoed one of those truths very clearly: the seeming delay in his coming. In 2 Peter 3:9 he says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The central reason why God has not already destroyed the wicked is simply that his plan is focused on saving every single one of his own. Not one will be left behind!

Being Ready

In light of the clear teaching of Jesus and the apostles there is only one admonition that makes any sense: “Be ready.” To be ready means being ready if Christ should come today. It also means being ready if his coming is some years down the road, seemingly delayed. The evidence of readiness will be manifest in those who persevere in the face of the gathering spiritual darkness that is rapidly engulfing our world. Only the indwelling Spirit of God will enable believers to stand in such in an hour. I’m so glad for John’s encouraging words in 1 John 4:4 — “…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

If you have not been truly born again of God’s Spirit, then you are not ready. If that is the case, then it is likely that you have no idea the danger you are in. May God invade your little world and enlighten you before it is eternally too late. And then may his grace move you to repent and put all your trust in God’s promises through Christ that he may make his home in your heart and seal you with the Spirit.

I am persuaded that many of those true believers left in the world are slumbering in dead churches, put to sleep by false doctrine about the second coming, surrounded by lost church members. The machinery of modern religion will not help you in an hour like this. God’s people need to seek Him as never before to lead them safely through. We have not been this way before. His presence, His wisdom, His grace, and His provision are what is needed. Nothing less will do the job.

While this is a sobering subject it is not intended to bring fear or despair to those who have truly put their trust in Christ. We have some wonderful promises in the Word. Matt 28:20 says, “‘… surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In Heb. 13:5-6 we read, “‘God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”

Phil 1:6 says, “… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I pray that you are one who has eyes to see where the world is headed and ears to hear what God is saying to his people. In the light of all that Jesus taught about being ready I would ask the simple question: Are you ready?

Return to Midnight Cry Messenger

Return to Library of Articles