The story of the ten virgins is a masterpiece, as Bible students have long recognized. It is realistic in its details and poignant in application. Besides, the deeper one explores it, the profounder its lessons become.

Keep watch! And be ready!

You might think that I overdid that point in the previous study of Matthew because of Jesus’ four illustrations all urging us to do precisely that. But I can’t have overdone it since, in Matthew 25, Jesus continues his teaching on the Mount of Olives by adding three more parables that also warn us to watch and be ready. The first is the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins (vv. 1-13). The second is the parable of the talents (v. 14-30). The third is the story of the separation of the sheep and the goats (vv. 31-46). They are some of the best known stories in the Bible.

Each of these pictures mentioned in Matthew 24:36-51 has been alike in stressing the sudden nature and unpredictability of Christ's return. But each has also added its own unique elements. The picture of the flood has reminded us that many persons will be lost. The picture of the two men working in the fields and the two women grinding at the mill points to a radical separation and reminds us that we are not saved by knowing or being close to a believer. The picture of the thief reminds us that our souls are valuable and that it is simple prudence for us to be ready.

The third of Jesus’ illustrations is of a thief breaking into a house, "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" (v. 43).

The second picture Jesus paints to describe the nature of things at his return is in verses 40 and 41, "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.” Here the suddenness of Christ's return introduced in the reference to the days of Noah is carried forward, but there is the additional thought of a sudden separation. Two men working in the field would be co-workers. Two women working with a hand mill would be closely related, most likely a mother and daughter or two servants in the same household. Outwardly they would seem to be in identical situations and even identical in their relationships to Christ. But at his return one will be taken and the other left behind.