Understanding the Olivet Discourse Parables

by Jack Kelley

If you’ve been visiting this site for any length of time at all you know I believe that once we’re saved we’re saved forever.  I base this belief on a number of verses that say so in no uncertain terms.

But as I study the conditions on Earth just before the Second Coming, I can find no such assurance for those who become believers during the time of the Great Tribulation.  It appears that the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit that guarantees our eternal destiny is uniquely given to the Church. No Old Testament believer enjoyed such a relationship. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him following his sin with Bathsheba. (Psalm 51:11) Old Testament believers were not promised that the Spirit of God would be sealed within them as a guarantee of their destiny.

Likewise there’s not a single verse that makes such a promise to Tribulation believers. What I do find for them are verses like the following. Speaking of the time when the whole world will be forced to take the Mark of the Beast or die, John wrote:

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev. 14:12-13)

Here the Lord admonished Tribulation believers to obey the Commandments and remain faithful, knowing that those who refuse the mark will either be martyred or forced out of the world’s economic system, denied access to life’s necessities.  Those who die for their faith will be blessed, because their ordeal will be over. 

And in Rev. 16:15 the Lord said,

Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed. 

If you’re familiar with the symbolic reference to clothing, you know what this verse means. If not, let’s review it. Isaiah 61:10 says, I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Just as clothing provides physical covering, righteousness provides spiritual covering. God has clothed us in garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness.

Now look at Zechariah 3:3-4. In Zechariah’s vision, Joshua, the High Priest, is standing before the angel of the Lord, obviously Jesus. Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”

Removing his filthy clothes symbolized taking away his sin. Putting rich garments on him made him righteous.

Rev 19:8 tells us that the Bride was given garments of fine linen bright and clean to wear and that the fine linen stands for her righteousness. But again, the clothing isn’t hers. It was given to her.

This use of clothing to symbolize righteousness is the main issue in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) The King (God) prepared a wedding banquet (Kingdom Age) for his son (Jesus) and sent his servants (prophets) to inform the invited guests (Israel) that all was ready. After first ignoring the invitation, they finally set upon the servants he sent and killed them.

Enraged, the King sent his armies and burned their city (Jerusalem). Then he sent his servants to find anyone they could and invite them to the banquet. The servants gathered up everybody they could find (gentiles) and the banquet was begun.

The King noticed a man not dressed in wedding clothes. When the man had no excuse for his improper attire, he was thrown out into the darkness.

In the context of the parable, the wedding clothes represent the righteousness with which God clothes  believers when they accept His invitation into His kingdom. The guest trying to gain admittance wearing his own clothes (in his own righteousness) was expelled. 

(Remember, the banquet follows the wedding, so it has already taken place when the King comes in.  There’s no mention of a Bride anywhere in the parable, and in any case the Bride is not a guest at her own wedding. The Church is not in view here. According to Rev. 19 the wedding banquet will take place after the end on the Great Tribulation at the time of the Lord’s return in glory. That makes these last minute guests Tribulation survivors, some of whom will not have maintained their righteousness and will be expelled.) 

What’s The Meaning Of This?

From all this we can safely assume that the Lord isn’t speaking of literal clothing in Rev. 16:15, but of the spiritual clothing that represents salvation and righteousness. Rather than guaranteeing salvation for Tribulation believers and assuming responsibility for their safety like a shepherd does for his sheep, He warns them to stay awake and alert lest they be caught naked when He comes. It’s a clear message that maintaining their salvation is their responsibility and if they’re not careful they could miss out. This warning is given on the threshold of the Bowl Judgments, the final and most devastating cycle of God’s Wrath.

We get another clue of this in Matt 24:12-13.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  As He listed the signs indicating that the End of the Age has come, the Lord alluded to the fact that Tribulation believers will have to stand firm to the end in order to insure their salvation.

You may ask why the Lord would not grant guaranteed salvation to Tribulation believers. But remember, He didn’t grant it to Old Testament believers either.  This was because the Old Testament was full of obvious signs of His presence.  I could fill this whole document with ways in which the Lord revealed Himself to His people.  They believed because of the evidence He provided them for His existence. 

During the Church Age these public displays of His presence have for the most part been missing, so the Church hasn’t had this kind of evidence to support our belief.  We believe by faith, and receive very special blessings because of that, one of them being eternal security.  That’s why Jesus told doubting Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) 

Once the Church is gone and the 70th week of Daniel begins, the Lord will begin providing obvious signs of His presence again in the form of the judgments He will visit upon the world.  And this time all the evidence will have been documented in advance.  His presence will be so obvious that it won’t require very much faith to believe that He exists.  Their faith will be needed for the patient endurance required in a time when it will literally be a blessing to die instead of remain alive.

What Time Is It?

With this background, we can begin to understand why the Olivet Discourse Parables can only be meant for Tribulation believers.  By confirming their timing, we’ll have all the proof we need.

 

In Matt 24:15-21 Jesus explained that the Great Tribulation will begin with the Abomination that causes Desolation, the anti-Christ standing in the Temple declaring himself to be God. That’s the signal for the Jews to flee into the mountains.

Then in Matt 24:29 He says that immediately after the tribulation ends, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. It’s now 3 ½ years later. The Great Tribulation has ended.

Matt 24:30 has people on Earth seeing the Sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and then His visible return to Earth with power and great glory, and all the peoples of the Earth mourning. It’s now too late for them to be saved and they intuitively realize it. This is the Second Coming.

Matt 24:36 begins with “No one knows about that day or hour …” What day? What hour? The day and hour of His Second Coming. Stay in context. That’s been His subject since verse 30. I believe the reason He said “day or hour” is so we would know for sure that He was talking about the actual Day and Hour of His Coming, not the general time. All of the Olivet Discourse parables describe conditions on Earth following the day of His return. 

By the way, Matt. 24:42-44 tell us that although it will be possible for the people on Earth at the time to accurately plot the end of the Great Tribulation, they won’t know the exact day of the Lord’s return. This is mentioned twice in these 3 verses.  It could only mean that there’ll be an unspecified span of time between the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man that will signal the end of the Great Tribulation and His actual return in Power and Glory.

With this background, we’re ready for the Olivet Discourse Parables.  The first is one is in Matt. 24:45-51 and tells the story of the two servants.  We’ll pick it up there in our conclusion of this study.

The Parable of the Servants

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:45-51)

The worst punishment is reserved for those in charge, heads of organized religious groups who, instead of “feeding” their flocks with the Bread of Life and encouraging them with the promise of His return, confuse and deceive them with false doctrines, and deny the validity of God’s prophetic Word. By their actions they will demonstrate the depravity of their own souls, showing themselves to be devoid of the Holy Spirit and worthy of punishment. Knowingly or not, they’re infiltrators from the enemy’s camp.  Paul described them as being disguised as servants of righteousness, 

Having forsaken the truth they no longer watch for the Lord’s return, ignoring the obvious fulfillment of prophecy all around them and ridiculing those whose child-like faith sustains them. They are worse than the enemy because they look and talk like friends. They’re like the one John describes as appearing to have the authority of the Lamb but who speaks the words of the Dragon (Rev. 13:11).

But the Lord will elevate to a place of authority in His Kingdom those who keep the word of God through the intense hardship and persecution of the times, and teach sound doctrine to the flocks entrusted to them. Just as some among the common folk alive when the Lord returns will be received into the Kingdom with honors, while others are put away in everlasting shame and contempt, so it will be with their leaders.

The Parable Of The 10 Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

” ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matt. 25:1-13)

The clearest indication of the Tribulation believer’s exposure is found in the Parable of the 10 Virgins. The timing of this parable is identified as just following the 2nd Coming, since the phrase “at that time” refers back the the day and hour of His Coming (Matt. 24:36).  The 10 virgins are all on Earth waiting for the Bridegroom (Jesus) to return. All 10 have both lamps and oil at the beginning, indicating that all were saved. (When oil is used symbolically it always refers to the Holy Spirit.)  The five who ran out of oil symbolize Tribulation believers who let their faith lapse by not remaining spiritually awake and alert. At the end they wake up, discover their peril, and rush about trying to renew their faith. While they’re working to get back into a right relationship with Jesus, He returns and the door to salvation is closed to them  forever.  Remember, all 10 virgins are caught sleeping when He returns. They all behaved badly. It’s the oil that distinguishes one group from the other, not their behavior.

 

Some try to make this into a parable about the Church, always symbolized by a bride. There is a connection between virgin and bride due to the fact that in those days brides were nearly always virgins. But so were all of their unmarried friends.  The Greek word simply means “someone who has never had sexual intercourse” and has often been translated as bridesmaid.  When used in connection with the Church the word is always singular, such as in 2 Cor 11:2. “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”  Here there are 10 of them.

 

Through out the parable, no bride is ever mentioned, and certainly could not be excluded by her husband from the wedding banquet, or Seudas Mitzvah, a festive meal that follows the wedding ceremony.  None of these 10 made it to the actual marriage ceremony, oil or not, so none of them can be the bride. In fact there’s no bride mentioned anywhere in this parable.  The timing, the grammar, and the context all testify against interpreting this parable as a warning to the Church. The 10 virgins represent Tribulation survivors trying to gain entrance to the Messianic Kingdom, or Millennium. Some had maintained their faith and were welcomed in. Others had not and were refused admittance.

The parable ends with the warning, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt 25:13) This is the third such warning in the span of 23 verses, all dealing with the time of His 2nd coming. Tribulation believers must remain alert at all times and guard their position carefully. It will take a tremendous amount of faith to sustain oneself through this time, and each believer is responsible for keeping his or her own faith strong.

Some try to say that since the Lord warned them about the day and hour being unknown, He must be talking about the Rapture. After all, won’t people be able to count off 1260 days from the Abomination of Desolation to the 2nd Coming? It turns out that it’s not quite that easy. The Great Tribulation will last 1260 days, it’s true, and immediately afterward the Sun will be darkened, the Moon not give its light, and stars will fall from the sky. (Matt. 24:29) This will be the signal that the Great Tribulation has ended.

Next the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. The Greek word for sign means that a symbol or token will appear alerting people of a coming event. Sometime after the sign appears, people will see Him coming on the clouds. So there’s a sequence of events that will take place, one following the other. But we’re not told the duration of any one of them. Imagine the suspense that will create on Earth, knowing that the End has come but not knowing exactly when the Lord will actually return. By the signs, they’ll know He’s due, but they won’t know the day or hour.

Personally, I think that the 10 virgins represent people on Earth who will awaken when they see His sign in the sky, and will know that the Bridegroom is coming. That’s when some of them will realize that their faith has lapsed and will begin frantically trying to prepare themselves. But alas, He comes before they’re ready and it’s too late.

The Parable Of The Talents

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt. 25:14-30)

In Matt 25:14, at the beginning of the Parable of the Talents, the word “again” means he’s giving another illustration from the same time period as the parable of the 10 Virgins, the Day of His Coming. That means it takes place on Earth after the 2nd Coming, whereas the Church is to be judged in Heaven after the Rapture.  Though our use of the word talent as describing a gift or ability derives from this parable, a talent was a Greek unit of measure, usually monetary.

The key to interpreting a parable is knowing that everything is symbolic of something else, so in this parable a talent represents something valuable to the Lord that he wished to have managed in His absence. Upon his return, He asks those to whom he had entrusted it what they’ve accomplished.

Reading the Bible, it’s clear that money isn’t important to the Lord. But Psalm 138:2 says that He values His Word above all else. I believe the talents represent His Word. Those who sow it into the hearts of others find that it multiplies in new believers. Those who study it find that their own understanding grows, multiplying their faith.

But those who ignore His word find that it’s like burying it in the ground. Out of sight, out of mind, until what little they began with is lost to them. Even though they held themselves out to be  the Lord’s  servants, this proves His word never held any value for them, and condemns them to be cast into the outer darkness. They knew the truth but buried it. Now it’s too late.

No matter how famous a teacher he or she might be, don’t ever let any one try to persuade you that this parable is about the gifts the Lord gives the Church and our responsibility to use them or be judged.  It just isn’t so. The timing is wrong, the location is wrong, the context is wrong, and the punishment for disobedience is wrong.

The Sheep And Goat Judgment

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matt. 25:31 leaves no doubt as to the timing on this one. It begins “When the Son of Man comes … ” and goes on to talk about the Lord setting up His throne on Earth after His return for the Judgment of the Nations, actually a judgment of Gentile tribulation survivors. The Lord doesn’t judge nations in the eternal sense, only individuals. The Greek word here is ethnos, and means “people of every kind.” They’ll be judged by how they treated “His brothers” during the Great Tribulation. It’s called the Sheep and Goat judgment, with the sheep being those who helped His brothers through the horrific times just past and goats being those who didn’t.

Some say His brothers are believers, whether Jew or Gentile, and others say they’re specifically Jews, but the most important point is that these tribulation survivors aren’t being judged by their works. Their works are being cited as evidence of their faith, as in James 2:18. To give aid to a believer, especially a Jew, during the Great Tribulation will take even more courage than it did in Hitler’s Germany, and will be an offense punishable by death. Only a follower of Jesus would dare do it or even want to. Those who helped “His brothers” will have demonstrated their faith by their works and will be ushered live into the Kingdom. Those who refused to help will have condemned themselves to the eternal fires by this evidence of their lack of faith.

All four of these illustrations teach the same lesson. Surviving Tribulation believers will go live into the Kingdom.

What’s The Point?

It seems clear then, that salvation in the post church period will be a much more tenuous situation than the one we enjoy, devoid of any guarantees and requiring great personal responsibility in the face of devastating judgments and relentless persecution. Even though evidence of God’s existence will abound in the judgments that regularly shake the Earth to its very foundations, maintaining one’s faith during this time will be no small task. This realization adds great meaning to the Lord’s promise to Church Age believers. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The time is short. If you’ve been putting off making that final surrender of your will to His, better do it now. Believe me, you don’t want to risk the alternative.

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Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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