Answering the Lord’s Invitation

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)

Readings

Isaiah 62:1–5
God will rejoice over you like a bridegroom

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her righteousness shines out as the morning light, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will you be called For­saken, and your land named Desolate. But you will be called My Delight Is In Her, and your land Married. For the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your Creator marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

Matthew 25:1–13
The parable of the ten virgins

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bride­groom. Five of them were wise and five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take oil with them. But the wise took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all nodded off and slept.

At midnight the cry rang out: “Here is the bride­groom! Come out to meet him!”

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

But the wise ones replied, “There may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”

However, while they were on their way to make the purchase, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

Later the rest of the virgins came, saying, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!”

But he answered and said, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.”

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man will come.

Heaven and Hell #366–67
Marriage in heaven

Heaven comes from the human race—which means that there are angels of both sexes there. And by creation itself, woman is for man and man for woman, each for the other; this love is inborn in both sexes. It follows, then, that there are marriages in the heavens just as there are on earth. However, the marriages in the heavens are very different from earthly ones. . . .

Marriage in the heavens is the union of two people into one mind. . . . In heaven, this is called “dwelling together,” and they are not called two but one. There­fore two married partners in heaven are not called two angels but one angel.

Reflection

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)

Have you ever noticed that in the movies, novels, and fairy tales the favorite “happy ending” is for the couple to get married and live happily ever after?

I must admit, this used to annoy me. Sure, it’s great that the two finally fall in love and get married, but “happily ever after?” What about all the rest of those years of marriage? Where are all the movies, novels, and fairy tales that deal with all those years of happy married life? I suppose there are a few, but most of the stories seem to end just when things are really beginning.

That’s frustrating for those of us who are now mar­ried, and find that the “happily ever after” isn’t exactly as advertised. Of course, there are many happy times in a good marriage. But there are also struggles, disappoint­ment, pain, and some unhappiness along the way. Even the best marriages have their down times. That’s why “happily ever after” bothered me. It just didn’t seem all that realistic—and it didn’t tell the rest of the story.

However, it recently dawned on me that the “happily ever after” isn’t talking about marriage on this earth at all. What it’s really talking about is heaven. Our “happily ever after” comes at the end of our story here on earth. At the end of our struggles and sorrows, trials and tri­umphs of this earthly life, we enter into a new phase of life in the spiritual world. And if we have done our work here, it is indeed a case of getting married and living happily ever after. Not that we don’t have challenges in the other life, too; but they are the challenges that come with doing the things we love and enjoy.

Ever since I had that thought, the “happily ever after” ending doesn’t bother me anymore. The end of every story is when the conflict is resolved, the struggle is over, and we go on to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The human mind and spirit knows the truth of this, and almost instinctively tells its stories that way. And the human heart knows that the happiest ending is a mar­riage that is the beginning of eternal love.

That’s why the Bible also ends with a wedding.

“Wait a minute!” you might say. “The Bible doesn’t end in a wedding! It ends in the Holy City New Jerusa­lem coming down from God out of heaven.” The Bible begins with a garden, and ends with a garden city.

But take a look at Revelation 21:2. In the verse that introduces the New Jerusalem, we read, “I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her hus­band.” The Bible does end in a wedding. The bride is the New Jerusalem itself—which stands as a symbol of God’s universal church, made up of all the people throughout the world who believe in God, love God, and live according to God’s commandments. So the Bible begins with the wedding of Adam and Eve in the garden, and ends with the wedding of the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

Who is the bridegroom in those final chapters of Revelation? As the Bible makes clear in many passages, the bridegroom is none other than God himself. This metaphor of God marrying his church is found in many places throughout the Bible, and especially in the Prophets. But for now I’ll just mention one passage, from two chapters earlier in the book of Revelation, where a great multitude shouts in a thunderous voice:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad, and give him glory! For the wed­ding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:6–8)

By the end of the book of Revelation, the wedding of the Lamb, who is the Lord God Jesus Christ, has come. And the bride who has made herself ready is the Holy City, which comes down out of heaven from God as a bride beautifully dressed for husband—who is the God from whom she came. In other words, heaven itself is a marriage! That is why the last two of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew are about weddings.

Now let’s talk about marriage and heaven.

Swedenborg departed from traditional Christianity by saying that angels are married, and that marriage is eternal. This is one of the beautiful jewels of the New Jerusalem Church.

Even today, most traditional Christians—especially the more conservative and literalistic ones—will tell you that there is no marriage in heaven. This is based on a misunderstanding of a single statement of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (22:30), Mark (12:25), and Luke (20:35): “In the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” This isn’t the place to give a full exposition of the Lord’s words here. However, it is important to realize that the Greek words in used this passage are not talking about the state of being married, but about the act of getting married. Spiritually speaking (and Jesus does speak spiritually in his teachings and parables), getting married is something we must do here on earth if we are going to be married in heaven. We’ll return to that in a minute.

Those who think this saying of Jesus applies to the state of being married aren’t paying attention to what he said a little earlier in Matthew, in his teaching about divorce:

Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let humans not separate. (Mat­thew 19:4–6)

The things God does are not temporary, but eternal (see Ecclesiastes 3:14). If, as the Lord says here, God created male and female, and joined them together into one, then marriage is not merely a temporary joining that lasts only for our lifetime here on earth, but an eternal union that lasts forever in heaven. This is assuming, of course, that the marriage in question is a relationship that was truly made by God, and not a mismatch made by human beings.

Further, as I’ve already mentioned, heaven is often compared to a marriage in the Bible. And this refers to the marriage of the Lord with the church. Yet we humans, created in the image and likeness of God, also have in our own individual relationships a likeness of that eternal union of Christ and the church: we have the marriage relationship of a man and a woman. And like the marriage of Christ and the church, the marriage of man and woman is eternal.

This teaching can be gained from a broader-based and more careful reading of the Bible than traditional Christians usually engage in. It is also the testimony of Emanuel Swedenborg, who tells us from his personal experience in heaven that angels are married. We gain the insight from Swedenborg that being “like the angels in heaven” means being married, since in heaven, a mar­ried couple is not called two angels, but one angel. As taught throughout the Scriptures, the whole atmosphere of heaven is an atmosphere of marriage! And the teach­ing that we will spend eternity with the person we love most in a heavenly, God-given marriage is indeed one of the precious gems of genuine Christianity.

If you would like to learn more about this, Sweden­borg devotes an entire chapter in his book Heaven and Hell to marriage in heaven. He also devotes an entire book, Marital Love (traditionally titled Conjugial Love), to marriage as an eternal, spiritual union.

What is marriage, from a spiritual perspective? Between two individuals, it is “a union of two people into one mind,” as Swedenborg says in our reading from Heaven and Hell. But there is also a “marriage” within each one of us. That inner marriage, which comes from the marriage in God, is the source of our outer, interper­sonal marriages.

These days, it is universally understood that we humans have two fundamental parts to our nature, pop­ularly known as “head and heart,” or more abstractly as “love and understanding.” We have loves, feelings, motives, emotions, and desires. These form our spiritual “heart.” And we have knowledge, understanding, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. These form our spiritual “head.” Everything we say with our mouth and do with our hands comes from these two together.

In fact, it is only when our heart and head, or our motivation and understanding, are “married” to one another and working together that we can say or do any­thing at all.

For example, if we want to bake a cake, but don’t have the faintest idea of how to use an oven, we will not be baking a cake any time soon. On the other hand, we may know perfectly well how to bake a cake, but have no desire to do so. Again, no cake gets baked. But if we both want to bake a cake and know how to bake a cake, all that’s needed is ingredients, utensils, and an oven, and soon there will be a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen!

Our inner marriage is an equal relationship of our head and our heart.

It is quite possible for us to be unbalanced—to not be truly “married”—within ourselves. If our head gets too far out in front, we may be convinced that we are right about everything and have all the answers, but be lack­ing in love and compassion for other people. In this case, our intelligence is hard, cold, and unyielding, because it has not been balanced by the soft, warm influences of love.

On the other hand, if our heart gets too far out in front, we may “love, love, love” ourselves into all sorts of foolish relationships that give us far more pain than joy. A year or two ago, when I was teaching a class on love and marriage to a teen group, I mentioned that if we have lots and lots of love, but don’t think about it and make smart choices, we can get ourselves into lots and lots of trouble. As I was saying this, half the girls in the class were nodding their heads “yes” and saying, “I’ve done that!” The warmth of our love needs the guiding direction of our understanding if it is going to result in genuinely good relationships and good ways of living.

We are “married” inside of ourselves when we have a love for God and for our fellow human beings in our hearts, together with a wise and thoughtful understand­ing of God’s truth, so that the things we say and do are good, constructive, and useful. This is the “heavenly marriage” that we must make within ourselves here on earth if we are going to be “like the angels in heaven.” We also need this kind of marriage of head and heart within ourselves if we hope to be in a loving, happy, growing marriage relationship here on earth.

This is what the parable of the ten virgins is all about.

The ten virgins represent all people who are part of the Lord’s church. But notice that some of the virgins were wise, and some were foolish. Not everyone who goes to church and professes to be spiritual and religious is truly, inwardly a part of the Lord’s church. The wise virgins brought both lamps and extra oil, whereas the foolish ones brought only lamps with a bit of oil in them, but no extra to keep their lamps going once that oil burned out.

The lamps that the virgins were carrying were not the traditional “Aladdin” type lamp that we often think of from Biblical times. Rather they were a special torch type lamp that consisted of a short pole with a shallow cup on top that had a bit of rag or wicking material in it, which could be kept burning by replenishing its oil from a flask that was carried separately. So the foolish virgins had light for only a short time before the bit of oil in their torches was used up; once that ran out, they had no more oil to keep the flame going.

The lamps in this parable represent our understand­ing, which is a container for all of our knowledge and experience. The oil, which is the fuel for the lamp, rep­resents our love, which fuels everything we say and do. So the message of the parable is, once again, that we must have both understanding and compassion if we are to answer the invitation and enter into the wedding feast of heaven.

No matter how deeply we may have studied the Bible and the teachings of the church, and no matter how comprehensive our doctrinal understanding may be, if we do not have love for God and compassion for others in our hearts, all of that religious knowledge means nothing. Without love, compassion, and kindness, we are the foolish virgins whose oil quickly burned out, and who found the door shut to them when they tried to enter into the banquet and enjoy the wedding festivities. If we are not married within ourselves, there is no way we can enjoy the heavenly marriage.

From all of this we can understand what it means to answer the Lord’s invitation. The bridegroom in the parable is the Lord, who invites us all to enjoy his wed­ding feast. No one is excluded from this invitation! If we do not go, it is not because we weren’t invited, but because we failed to respond to the invitation.

And what do we need to do in order to answer the Lord’s invitation? We need to have both lamps and oil. We need to both learn the spiritual teachings of the church and love God and our fellow human beings.

The foolish virgins weren’t ready to answer the invita­tion. They had lamps, but very little oil. If we have plenty of knowledge, but have neglected to love and serve our fellow human beings, we will not answer the invitation either. We may think that we will be ready for heaven when the time comes; but we will have a rude awakening when we find that the door has closed, and we are on the outside. This will not be because God is unwilling to let us in—as might appear from an overly literal reading of the parable—but rather because we ourselves have rejected the heavenly marriage within us.

If our lamps are filled with oil, though—if everything we learn is filled with love, kindness, and compassion, and we spend our lives actively doing what we can to give comfort, service, and happiness to others—then we will be ready and waiting, our torches burning bright, when the call of the bridegroom comes.

We answer the Lord’s invitation to the wedding feast of heaven when we have become inwardly “married”: when our heart and head work together to show God’s love to our fellow human beings.


(This post is the eleventh and final chapter in my book, On Earth as it is In Heaven, originally published in 2005. For a description and Table of Contents, please click here. This material is copyright 2005 by Lee Woofenden.)

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed
2 comments on “Answering the Lord’s Invitation
  1. waltchilds says:

    Excellent article, very helpful at helping me understand this difficult parable.

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