Three End-Times Parables
Even a parable as familiar as the ten virgins may seem even more relevant to our own here and now with a careful reexamination. And, in the course of this scrutiny, we may find more that points us to Christ; for, as Nephi wrote,
(2 Nephi 11:4 4) “All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.”
In both the King James Version and the Joseph Smith Translation, we see Jesus and his associates walking east across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives. It is there that the disciples ask the “when?” (will these things come to pass) question. But it is evident that the answer given by the Son of God and restored through the Prophet Joseph has wider application than that given to those first century followers of the Savior. After describing the events that the ancient Apostles would witness for themselves, the Lord says:
Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 1:21 21 — Behold, these things [the events pertaining to the generation in which the ancient Apostles lived] I have spoken unto you concerning the Jews; and again, after the tribulation of those days which shall come upon Jerusalem [after that generation has passed], if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe him not. [Emphasis added.]
Later, he is more emphatic in his effort to show that this message pertains to another group, a group that will succeed the holy Apostles in some future generation. “Behold,” declares the Son of God, “I speak for mine elect’s sake” (JS JS—M 1:29); the “very elect . . . according to the covenant” (JS—M 1:22).
Armed with this precious perspective, guided by this idea, it becomes apparent that at least half the message of Matthew 24, the message given to the ancient Apostles, pertains to and is addressed to those who will live in the generation when Christ comes in his glory to begin his millennial reign. Yet it is not addressed to all of that generation. It is addressed to the very elect according to the covenant.
Through the Prophet’s inspired revision we see a new audience receiving the Lord’s revelation of the end time. We see the Saints of the Most High God, those who have given their all for the building up of his kingdom, those who have suffered humiliation and desolation for the testimony of Jesus, those who have received the new and everlasting covenant of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Preparation for the End Time
The signs of the Second Coming will be obvious, and the only way to prepare is to watch at all times. There will be no signal, no whistle blowing, no beat of a drum to alert one and all that the promised day has at last arrived. It will come as naturally as the dawn follows the darkness.
There it is, the unfolding of the end time, the chronology, the warnings, the principles, everything except the exact date, which “no one knoweth; no not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only” (v. 40).
And yet there is more to come. The Lord has given his disciples a sense of what the end time will be like, what the events will be. But, to give his disciples greater understanding of how the events will unfold, he speaks to them in parables—three of them. They are the end time parables.
The Joseph Smith Translation begins these parables with these sobering words: “And then, at that day, before the Son of Man comes, the kingdom of heaven shall be likened unto ten virgins” (JS—M 25:1). This inspired revision helps us see that there is a clear connection between the ideas presented in Matthew 24 and this current chapter. The three parables in Matthew 25 are thus transformed. No longer are they interesting anecdotes. They are messages to the elect according to the covenant, each one explaining some unique manner of preparation that must prevail when the elect stand before God to be judged.
Prophetically, we should also see the Lord himself in these accounts, remembering that all that is given by God to man is “the typifying of [Christ]” (2 Nephi 11:4). In each parable we should be able to see him in ways that are obvious and in ways that are not so apparent.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
As we read the parable of the ten virgins it seems natural to associate the bridegroom with the Savior. The idea of the Lord being the groom and the church or Israel being the bride has been promoted since Old Testament times. The evident problem with this spontaneous association, connecting the bridegroom with Christ, is that there is in this particular bridegroom no evidence of mercy. On the surface there is only roughness and disdain for those who are foolish. There is only justice. The wise are admitted to the wedding feast. The foolish are rejected. Where is evidence of grace? Where do we see that enabling power generated by the Atonement of Christ in this judgment scenario? Is it in the extra oil that the wise virgins refuse to share? If that is true, what could the extra oil represent? To our minds come the Savior’s sobering warning (JS—M 1:37):
Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.
They that are wise treasure up the word of God and the knowledge that they possess is not something that can be shared. It comes from daily feasting upon the Word in such a way that a oneness with the Word is achieved. Such a treasure cannot be shared because it is gained only from experience.
The wise virgins treasure their extra oil. They will not be separated from it. They do not know the exact time when the groom will arrive. They only know that all the signs have been given to signal the day; and it is dark, very dark. They will need their lamps. They will need to treasure the word of God.
Notwithstanding the apparent lack of mercy in this parable, there is a typifying of Christ and his mercy. It is in the invitation, the implicit invitation to come to the wedding. All have lamps, all are virgins, all have been invited. They have everything they need to participate in the wedding feast. So too we may say that through the Atonement we have been given all that we need to stand before God at the great day of the Lord to account for our lives.
Passages of Restoration scripture that employ wedding feast euphemisms confirm that the elect according to the covenant have received all that is needed to be ready. In each case, these references consist of invitations to come to Christ, to come to his kingdom. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” shout the thousands who march in advance of his coming in the generation of his arrival.
Without the Atonement there is no invitation. There is no point to preparation. There is no reason to repent, to have faith, to have a lamp or extra oil. The virgins have been told to gather. Evidence of the arrival of the groom has been given. They must abide the day. The grace of God is seen in the invitation. This is a message to the elect, not to the whole world. It is to the very elect who may be deceived. Through the gift of the Atonement of Christ we may access all the gifts and blessings that await the faithful. However, the parable makes it clear that those who are invited must abide the day. They must be ready, treasuring up the word of God, taking the Holy Spirit for their guide, receiving the truth.
The Parable of the Talents
In this parable, the Lord is addressing ‘His own servants.’ The wording awakens us: if we remember the connection between the prophecies in Matthew 24, we must conclude that these servants are once again a typifying of the very elect, the elect according to the covenant. They are not everyone’s servants. They are unique. They are the servants of the Lord. They are set apart from the rest of the world, different, his own.
They are given stewardships to watch over. They are given talents. We suppose that, in the context of the scripture account, these talents are sums of money. A talent, as the term is used in the parable, is a certain weight of silver or gold. It is important to note that the value of these talents was high in the extreme. To have only one talent of gold would make a man rich.
So too, the precious gift of the Atonement is beyond calculation. It is God’s investment in us. “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God,” we are assured by the Lamb of God (D&C 18:10).
For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance (Doctrine and Covenants 18:11).
They receive these sums of money according to their ability (see Matthew 25:15). The stewardships have been calculated by the master to be equivalent to the capacities of the recipients. There is no chance for injustice. The test is fair.
The “talents” the Lord has given to members of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Last Days (in addition to the great gift of the atonement are…
- The authority to preach the gospel of repentance.
- Time in which to do so.
- The law of consecration (in which we consecrate all He has blessed us with to His service).
So far, we have seen in the two end time parables, elements essential to exaltation, gifts that can only come from God through the Atonement of his Son, two blessings without which eternal life is not possible: the invitation to come to Christ’s kingdom (the invitation to the wedding feast), and the resources (talents) to invite others to join with and become part of the elect according to the covenant.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
The third and final parable is the culmination of the final judgment scenario. We will assume that the elect according to the covenant have passed the first two tests. They have been baptized, received the Holy Ghost, and received the resources and time whereby they might bring others to Christ. They have not been deceived and they have used their resources wisely. What can remain?
In the final parable of this trilogy—the sheep and the goats—the sheep are gathered on the right hand of the king, the goats on the left. Implicit in this scene is the idea that the sheep and goats have previously been mixed together. It is the whole world that is gathered before the king. The elect according to the covenant will be mixed in with all mankind. Those who are like sheep will be gathered to one place; those who are like goats, to another. To the meek, the compliant, the willing, the ones who will be comfortable with and have been redeemed by the Lamb of God, the invitation will be to gather on the right hand of the Redeemer. They will be invited to sit at his right-hand, as he sits on the right hand of the Father.
To the stubborn, the whiners, the rebellious, the goats of this world, there will be a place provided on the left, where there will be no glory. The placing on the right and left hand is judgment. In this parable the elect are not waiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom. They have already demonstrated that they cannot be deceived. They have received no assignments from the Master. They have already demonstrated that they will magnify that which the Lord has given them. In this scenario the judgment is rendered. It is a fait accompli. There is nothing to say, no appeal, no second chance. It is done.
We have seen how the elect according to the covenant take advantage of the Atonement of Christ, how they avail themselves of the enabling power that can come only from the Son of God. Guests at a wedding feast (in the parable of the ten virgins) become servants (in the parable of the talents) who eventually rule over kingdoms (in the parable of the sheep and the goats).
Similarly, we see the Son of God moving allegorically from Bridegroom (in the parable of the ten virgins) to Master (in the parable of the talents) to King (in the parable of the sheep and the goats). In fact, the Bridegroom becomes the King of Kings. The elect according to the covenant, become rulers over kingdoms if they are not deceived. And what is it that they must do to avoid deception?
- Accept the invitation to come to Christ. Watch and be ready, especially as the night of spiritual darkness grows closer to midnight. (The message of the parable of the ten virgins.)
- Magnify the investment the Lord has made in them. Use time wisely. Proclaim the gospel. Consecrate that which they are called upon to give to the building up of God’s kingdom on the earth. (The message of the parable of the talents.)
- Look upon the poor and needy as their salvation. (The message of the parable of the sheep and the goats)
Those who will not be deceived in the time before Jesus Christ comes again will demonstrate a complete acceptance of his atoning sacrifice. They will accept the invitation extended to them. They will come to the wedding feast, and they will not lose faith by believing that the Savior is “delaying his return.” They will not squander the gifts God has given them but will believe it is better to be anxiously engaged, rather than sit on the sidelines during the unfolding events of the last days. They will multiply the investment the Lord has made in them. They will see in the poor and the needy the face of Christ and serve in meekness.
*Robert England Lee in Parables of Redemption, Horizon Publishers, Springville, Utah, 2007.