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Parables of Christ

End Times

Various Scripture

Lesson audio


Matthew 13:47-50 NASB  "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind;  (48)  and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.  (49)  "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous,  (50)  and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

About Fishing

It helps to know a little bit about commercial fishing. The type of method is described here is now known as a purse seine. A diagram is provided for you below:

Drag Net

As you can see, this is quite a large net. It's designed to snare an entire school of fish. It is often used in shallow waters to catch every fish in the area, as the bottom of the net often rests on the bottom of the water. Modern fishing boats can manage a net of this size with one boat; in ancient times it was common to use two boats for such a large net. The advantage of this net is that it catches everything. So Christ's audience here would have known about this kind of net quite well. The key fact is this: it catches everything.

Parable Parsed

Understanding this parable is relatively straightforward. The metaphor of the sea, as used in Daniel chapter 7, implies the people of the world. It's no great stretch to think conclude that the net is the preaching of the gospel (fishers of men). The net result is the church as we have it today (pun intended).

That carries with it two important results. The most important one of these for us today is that the church is composed not only of those who are being saved but many who are not. If you happen to be shopping for church this is important news. It tells you that any church congregation you enter is composed of those who were going to heaven and some who were going to hell. As a result, the congregation will not be made up of those who are perfectly behaved, consistently charitable Christians. It will be made up of human beings, with their faults, their forgiveness — or their hypocrisy. More to the point, it is entirely possible that you cannot tell the difference between a poor Christian and hypocrite. The distinction will be important; it's just that you can't make it now. Judge not, that you be not judged.


There aren't three important facts we should apprehend about this sorting out at the end of the age:

·         First, it happens at the end of the age — when Christ returns. There is no reason, therefore, for us to hurry it up and do it ourselves. It's already on the schedule.

·         Second, the sorting is binary. We are not going to be graded like so many eggs, but sorted out to those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. As a result, we need to focus our efforts on what it takes to get in through the narrow way. We must pay attention to what is required of us; and pay no attention to what is fashionable in the church.

·         Third, we are not the ones doing the sorting. That is assigned to the angels. Our task is not to judge and separate, but to make disciples.

So, let's see what it takes.

Ten Virgins

Matthew 25:1-13 NASB  "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  (2)  "Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.  (3)  "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,  (4)  but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.  (5)  "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.  (6)  "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  (7)  "Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  (8)  "The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  (9)  "But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  (10)  "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.  (11)  "Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.'  (12)  "But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'  (13)  "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Wedding Customs

Weddings in those days were somewhat different than they are today in our culture. The celebration would go on for as long as two weeks. Remember, some people might have to walk from the next village or even further to get to your wedding. Besides, which is better: a two-hour reception or a 10 day wedding party?

One of the key events in such a wedding, which is described here, is the night in which the groom kidnaps the bride. This is not the same thing as going on a honeymoon today. In those days the groom and his friends would surprise the parents of the bride in the middle of the night to carry off the bride to the groom's parent’s home. This was a rather raucous affair, and often turned into a procession between the two houses. Remember, we're talking about a wedding in a small village here.

The flashlight not having been invented yet, members of this party would carry an oil lamp. This was not, as you might expect, for the purpose of finding your way around the village. It served a completely different purpose. You held the lamp up towards your face, so that everyone in the village would recognize who it is that was running around in the dark. It was their way of knowing that you were not a burglar. So if you did not have a lamp you would be thought to be a miscreant of some sort. That's why the groom could say he didn't know the other five virgins; no oil, no identification.

The Multiple Meanings of Oil

There are several meanings for the oil, spiritually speaking.

·         The most common metaphor is that oil is used to give light. So Christ admonishes us to let our good works shine before men. Most interpreters think this is the meaning of the parable here. The foolish virgins did not have those good works which mark the true Christian.

·         Another meeting can be seen in this: oil is often the symbol of the Holy Spirit. We still speak of and anointing by the Spirit. This gives us much the same meaning, as a "Christian" without the Holy Spirit is indeed a fraud.

·         The Jew of this time would also know (from the Psalms) the concept of the "oil of joy." In this, we would see that sense of joy that always accompanies a wedding (or should). If you don't know the difference between happiness and joy, I don't think I can explain it to you. If you do, then know that "oil" is a symbol for such a joy.

Wedding of the Lamb

Of course, the ultimate symbolism of a wedding is given to us in Revelation. It is unfortunate that today the church has largely dropped the idea that Christian marriage is a living picture of the relationship between Christ and his church. A sermon on the subject of marriage generally includes a good deal of popular psychology and very little (if any) mention of this concept. The early church saw it quite differently. Your wedding is supposed to be the start of a relationship which models that of Christ and the church. The groom, in this parable, is Christ at his return. The bride – whom he snatches out of her home at an unknown time — is the church. So from this we may conclude:

·         Once again, no one knows the exact time and date at which Christ will return.

·         Whenever it is, it will be a joyous occasion for those who are true Christians.

·         Some of us think we're going to be included – and won't be.

The foolish are those who have refused to have the good works which should be natural to a Christian. Perhaps it's time to check how much oil you have on hand.

Weak Doctrine

One of the effects of no longer teaching the idea that human marriage is in any way related to the wedding of Christ and the church is that we do not see it as a practical thing. The early church saw it differently; in particular, counseling a husband concerning the difficulties in his marriage started with the example of the love Christ had given for his church. That love is a requirement of all Christian husbands. This gets a bit of lip service, but is considered of no use in practical Christian counseling. The result is that the husband is not held to the standard of the church, but is taught to seek a compromise that is acceptable to both husband and wife.

The results of this decision are predictable. If there is no high and hard claim upon the husbands love, it soon becomes apparent that matrimony is a convenience — and not a holy one. The early church saw marriage as something which was solemn and sacred, watched over by God himself. This is a view which is seldom encountered today. That does not make it false, just rare.

The reason this is a tragedy is that most of us learn by example. If you want to learn how to love your wife you need a good example. That's why we are given Christ and the church as an example – so that the husband will know how committed he must be in loving his wife.

Fig Tree Leafing

Mark 13:28-30 NASB  "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.  (29)  "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.  (30)  "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Signs of the Times

This is one of those parables that by itself explain practically nothing. What is telling us here is that there will be certain signs of the times that say Christ will soon return. Here are a few of those signs of the times that you need to look for:

·         Expect wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, political upheaval — these are things that are normal in the human existence. They look huge at the time, they may even have some local significance in God's plan, but they are not signs of his return.

·         Several passages indicate to us that the last age of the church will be Laodicean. It will be a lukewarm church at the heart; though such churches do not think of themselves as being lukewarm. As Revelation reminds us, they see themselves as being nearly perfect. So it seems to you that your church is highly enthusiastic about nothing in particular, perhaps this is a sign. Particularly if it's repeated in every other congregation you know.

·         False prophets? Of course! There are any number of miraculous healers showing themselves on television; just send money.

·         Towards the end, there will be an increase in betrayal of Christians and hatred of Christians. It is a very curious combination. How is it that the lukewarm church produces an increase in the hatred of Christians? Shouldn't it work the other way? Perhaps this is why it is considered a sign of the times.

Trigger Events

Of course, you (I call of the rest of us) would like to have some sure signs that you can point to and say, "now I know he's coming very soon." There are several such events identified by differing schemes; here are three that are pretty universally accepted:

·         The return of the Jews to Palestine and in particular to Jerusalem. The timing of these events is given variously by the particularly different theories of Revelation. However, all of them agree that the return of the Jews to Palestine and Jerusalem is in fact a sign that the coming of Christ is near.

·         One sign which has yet to be seen is that given in Daniel: the "abomination of desolation." This requires the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Such a Temple is described, prophetically, in the book of Ezekiel. Not all theories hold to this particular sign of the times. But if it does occur, it would be very highly visible.

·         The preaching of the gospel to all the nations is also such a sign. There is some dispute about what "all the nations" means. The original in the Greek seems to indicate all of the Roman Empire. That would be the common interpretation of what was said at the time. However, in our day we might look at it as prophecy and say that this means every people group on the planet. Starting in the 19th century this became a common goal of the evangelical organizations.

Knowing When — or — Being Prepared

Let's be particularly clear about this: knowing when Christ returns is trivial compared to being prepared for his return. We are told that no one knows the time anyway; even if we did know the time we would still have to prepare. So here's what you should be doing while you are waiting the return of our Lord:

·         Study the Scriptures. In them you find the signs of the times; in them you find the way in which you should walk. There is no substitute for this. Curiously, the church in the last 20 years has consistently deemphasized the study of the Scriptures. Reading the Bible is not hip, cool or with it. It's just necessary.

·         All the study in the world does you no good if you do not put what you learn into practice. Faith without works is dead. If your life does not blossom with good works you are going to miss the narrow way. Having the right doctrine, knowing the exact minute when Christ will return and all the words to the hymn the angels will sing won't help you a bit if you do not have good works.

·         Beware. There are those who will attempt to leave you and others astray. That's yet another reason to read Scriptures. Do not be fooled. If it looks too good to be true — for example, the prosperity gospel – it probably is.

There it is. The day is coming when all will be gathered together, sorted out and sent to heaven and hell. Those going to heaven have the right faith and the works to prove it. Do not be deceived, but follow the one true Christ.

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