The Bridegroom Comes!| Matthew 25 and Romans 13
The Bridegroom Comes! Is it appropriate for the church to keep repeating these words from Matthew 25, after 2000 years? It is almost taken for granted among commentators that Matthew 25 and the parable of the ten virgins is a referent to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of human history. There really is no need to extensively document this, as I think there are few who would challenge it.
With the presupposition taken for granted that Matthew 25 speaks of the “final coming” of Christ, it is then claimed that this serves as proof that the Olivet Discourse must be divided into two subjects: the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, a “spiritual and historical day of the Lord”, but then, the “real” literal, and final coming of the Lord. However, if it can be proven that the coming of the Lord of Matthew 25 was in fact to occur imminently in the New Testament first century generation, that presupposition is proven false, and the unity of the Olivet Discourse is established. With this in mind I want to call attention to the direct correlation between Matthew 25 and Romans 13:11f, where Paul is quite clear that he expected and predicted the imminent coming of the Bridegroom Jesus.
In Matthew 25, notice the motif of the “delay” of the Bridegroom, until late in the night. Then, the cry went out, “The Bridegroom comes!” I think there is something to learn here.
There is problem with Matthew 25 when theologians come along and apply this parable to the church age and the church’s gospel proclamation, for so far 2000 years. Notice that the declaration that the Bridegroom was coming, was near, did not go out until he really was near! There was no “timeless” elastic, plastic meaningless pronouncements that God want’s the church of all generations to be on the “tiptoe of expectation” as John MacArthur, seeking to mitigate the force of the skeptics claimed. On the one hand he said: “James, Peter, John and Paul, and the writer of Hebrews all believed Christ’s return was very near–‘at the door’ (James 5:9); ‘at hand’ (Philippians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7); ‘approaching’ (Hebrews 10:25); ‘coming quickly’ (Revelation 3:11; 22:7)” (John MacArthur, The Second Coming, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossways, 1999)56).
Realizing that this is problematic, he asks, “Why was the fact of our Lord’s return presented in the language of imminency, but the exact date withheld?” (John MacArthur, The Second Coming, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossways, 1999)206). His answer is, “One reason was that He desired to keep His people on the very tiptoe of expectation, continually looking for Him.” But, this is specious.
The fact is that Jesus condemned premature declarations of the nearness of the end (Luke 21:8). Thus, when MacArthur admits that the NT writers affirmed the nearness of the end, if the end was not truly, objectively near, those writers were in fact wrong. Given the fact that the Bible basically ends with the declaration “Behold, the Bridegroom Comes!” in Revelation 22, “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come'” this means that John in Revelation was affirming that Christ’s coming for his Wedding was truly imminent.
Remember the story of the little boy who cried “Wolf!”? Well, in MacArthur’s paradigm, the church has been crying “Wolf!” for 2000 years! That is patently not what Matthew 25 – or Revelation- or any of the NT teaches.The cry: “The Bridegroom Comes” is not a “timeless message” for all ages!
The Bridegroom Comes!| Comparing Matthew 25 and Romans 13
I suggest that when we look at Romans 13:11-14 we are forced to admit that the inspired writers not only “hoped” for the imminent parousia, they taught that as divine truth. Let’s take a look at Romans 13 in support of that:
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
There are several points to be made here and we will develop them in a series of short posts.
The first point we want to note is that Jesus’ parable speaks of the coming of the Bridegroom in the middle of the night. Paul said “the night is far spent.”
It might be argued that this is simply coincidental, or similar language, but, I believe this ignores the motif of the “Day versus Night” in the rest of the NT. I am suggesting that Jesus’ referent to the passing of the night comports well with the imagery of the rest of the NT.
Paul likened the saints to children of the Day in 1 Thessalonians 5. Just like in Romans 13, Paul taught that being children of the Day demanded certain ethical and moral conduct from the children of the Day. This is highly suggestive, for if Romans 13 and 1 Thessalonians 5 are parallel, then since Romans 13 very powerfully communicates the imminence of the coming of the Lord, this would demand that Thessalonians must bear that same imminent expectation of the coming of Christ.
Peter anticipated the arrival of the Morning Star and the passing of the night in 1 Peter 1:16f. The language of this text indicates that Peter was anticipating the passing of the “night.” What is also significant about this is that for Peter, the Old Covenant prophecies anticipated the arrival of the Day, and those prophecies served as a light in the midst of darkness as they pointed to the coming of Christ (v. 18).
John said “The night is passing away, and even now the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The language here is very clear, and challenging. It is difficult to imagine that John was anticipating a 2000 year passing of the darkness and full arrival of the Day, when he said that the darkness was already passing and the light was already shining! I suggest that the church is simply wrong to continue to repeat the mantra The Bridegroom Comes in light of the imminence of this text and others.
Just from these few verses it is more than evident that the NT writers thought in terms that the “night” of “this present age” was passing and the “Day” of the everlasting kingdom was already dawning. I think Jesus’ allusion to his coming in the middle of the night fits this motif well, and thus, when we compare that idea with Romans 13 it heightens the sense of urgency of the parousia in the first century. For more on the motif of the coming of the Bridegroom for the Wedding, see my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings! It is an in-depth analysis of the Wedding motif in Scripture.
Notice again how powerful Paul’s use of the Night versus Day language is: “The night is far spent, the Day is at hand.” Just like 1 John, it is difficult to imagine that Paul was thinking in terms of the passing of millennia before the arrival of the day that had “drawn near” (eggenken– perfect tense in the Greek, indicating that what was once not near has now drawn near) when he spoke.
Now, if it is true that Matthew 25 and Romans 13 speak of the same coming Day / parousia of Christ, then the fact that Paul said “The Day is at hand” demands a first century fulfillment of Matthew 25, thus falsifying the claim that Matthew 25 was not the AD 70 parousia of Christ! Furthermore, the fact that Jesus condemned premature declarations that “The Bridegroom Comes!” is falsification of 2000 years of crying “Wolf!”
We have more on the comparison between Matthew 25 and Romans 13 so stay tuned!