Matthew 25 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins & The Lost Cities of Africa: The Great Zimbabwe (1 of 5)

Tomorrow weren’t going to go back into the Bible and look at…

Matthew 25
The Parable of the Ten Virgins

1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

The parable of the ten virgins is a direct reference to the Rapture of the Church – the removal of all born again Christians, dead and alive from the Earth, into the clouds to meet the Lord Jesus and be taken to Heaven until the Second Coming and Armageddon.

In this parable Jesus teaches an important and startling lesson: some Christians will miss the Rapture and be left behind to experience God’s wrath unleashed on Earth during the end times Day of The Lord.

2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Pearly gates of heaven opening to a high altitude sunrise between two layers of clouds in a landscape orientation

“The day nor the hour” – Christ’s coming is always imminent, therefore be ready; watch.

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

“Talents” – the term was first used for a unit of wei9ght (about 75 lbs.), then for a unit of coinage.  The present-day use of “talent” to indicate an ability or gift is derived from this parable since they received 5, 2, or just 1 talent, “to  every man according to his several ability.”

16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, and the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matt 7:24-25 NIV).

20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

“The exchangers” – the Greek for this word comes from traveza (“table”), a word seen on the front of banks in Greece today.  Bankers sat at small tables and changed money.

“Usury” – the Greek for this word was first used in the sense of offspring, interest being the “offspring” of invested money.

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

The main point of the parable is being ready for Christ’s coming involves more than playing it safe and doing little or nothing.  It demands the king of service that produces results.

30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and brought it” (Matt 13:45-46).

25:31-46 – the two most widely accepted interpretations of this judgment are: 1. It will occur at the beginning of an earthly millennial kingdom (vv. 31, 34).  Its purpose will be to determine who will be allowed to enter the kingdom (v. 34). 

The criterion for judgment will be the king of treatment shown to the Jewish people (“these my brethren,” v. 40) during the preceding great tribulation period (vv. 35-40, 42-45).  Ultimately, how a person treats the Jewish people will reveal whether or not he is saved (vv. 41, 46).

2. The judgment referred to occurs at the great white throne at the end of the world (Rev 20:1-15).  Its purpose will be to determine who will be allowed to enter the eternal kingdom of the saved and who will be consigned to eternal punishment in hell (vv. 34, 46). 

The basis for judgment will be whether love is shown to God’s people (see 1 Jn 3:14-15).

I believe that either or both of the above suggestions could be true.  We can’t control how we feel about someone, but we have control over our behavior.  For example, there’s nothing I can do about my evil hopes for Obama and his family, but it is my choice to pray for them or not, in which I do. 

I know that my prayers aren’t that sincere, but it doesn’t matter because my sincerity of praying for them is true.  I pray for them for God, not for me.

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

“Or what woman having ten sliver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost,’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:8-10).

“Before him shall be gathered all nations” – the word ethne, nations, properly means here ethnic groups.  All people will be judged as individuals.  No one enters God’s kingdom because of his relationship with a certain country, but rather because of his or her relationship with Jesus Christ.

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

25:34-40 – rewards in the kingdom of heaven are given to those who serve without thought of reward.  There is no hint of merit here, for God gives out of grace, not debt.  What Paul says would make one think otherwise:

“Know ye not that they which run in a race urn all, but one receiveth the prize?  So run, that ye may obtain.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor 9:24-25).

Yet, the 1 Cor 9:23 explains it:

“And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

The Gospel is Jesus Christ, all that we do we do for Him, not for a reward.  Our reward is out salvation.  Like me praying for Obama and his family.  I don’t do it for a reward, I do it for His sake.

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The Lost Cities of Africa 

Overview of Great Zimbabwe. The large walled construction is the Great Enclosure. Some remains of the valley complex can be seen in front of it.

The Great Zimbabwe

Location: Zimbabwe
Date of Construction: c 13th century CEA
Abandoned: late 15th century C.E. Built By: Mwene Mutapa Empire
Key Features: Great Enclosure; Sophisticated Dry-Stone Masonry; Conical Tower; Hilltop Complex; Stone Birds

The greatest archaeological site in sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps the only one to lend its name to a modern-day state, Great Zimbabwe was once the center of a mighty trading empire. Its ruins have inspired exotic speculations and been at the center of political storms.

Great Zimbabwe is the collective name given to a group of ruins spread across a valley and adjoining hills on the Zimbabwe Plateau – a region of high ground between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers in southern Africa.

View west from the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex, showing the granite boulder that resembles the Zimbabwe Bird and the balcony.

It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Its most prominent and best-known feature is a circular wall known as the Great Enclosure, a feat of sophisticated monumental masonry that continues to awe and inspire today as it must have when it was first constructed, probably during the 13th-15th centuries CE.

This was the height of the Mwene Mutapa Empire (known by Europeans as Monomotapa), a kingdom of the Shona (the peoples who still live in the area) that developed from about 900 CE.

At first the empire was based on cattle herding, but from around 1100 Mwene Mutapa took over control of the lucrative trading networks that linked ivory, iron and gold production centers inland with the merchants on the coast, who brought in return luxury goods from the Middle and Far East. Goods found at the site include silk, cotton,

Chinese porcelain, Persian faience, glass from Syria and beads from India. In particular, rich gold fields were opened up to the west of Great Zimbabwe and considerable wealth flowed through the hands of the king, or mambo.

It was this wealth that funded construction of Great Zimbabwe’s monumental masonry and attracted a growing population.

The Hill Complex

The whole complex covers about 1,800 acres, but the ruins are concentrated at three main sites.

Atop a rocky hill sits the group known as the Hill Complex, which includes an oval stone enclosure about 330 feet across at its widest point and up to 36 feet high, within which sit a number of huts and small buildings made of daga – mud, gravel and earth from termite mounds, mixed to give a sort of concrete, which forms the most common building material in Africa.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

The hill was probably the part of the site that was occupied earliest. Remains indicate that it was first settled by Iron Age herders and farmers as early as the 5th century CE, probably attracted by the area’s rich grazing, fertile soil and, thanks to its altitude, relative lack of tsetse-fly spreading sleeping sickness.

When Great Zimbabwe became rich and powerful, the Hill Complex was developed into the enclave of the mambo and possibly other figures of power, such as priests. A number of stone birds perched on top of stone pillars were found inside the complex, one of which has since become the national emblem of Zimbabwe.

The Great Enclosure

Below the Hill Complex is the most iconic and impressive of Great Zimbabwe’s wonders – the Great Enclosure, known by the 19th century residents of the area as the Imbahuru, which means either ‘great house’ or ‘house of the great woman’ in the local Karanga dialect of Shona.

The conical tower in the Great Enclosure, possibly a giant symbol, but also thought to be a symbolic replica of a grain store. No mortar is used to hold together the stone blocks.

This latter translation would prove to have significant resonance for early European interpretations of the site. The Great Enclosure is an elliptical space enclosed by a giant wall with a circumference of 735 feet, which is up to 33 feet high in places.

It is constructed of two layers of rectangular granite blocks, laid together with such precision that no mortar was required, filled with earth and stones. The wall is about half as thick at the base as it is high and tapers in towards the top.

Almost one million blocks were used in its construction. The blocks come from the surrounding hills, where granite domes erode through a process known as exfoliation, whereby thin sheets of rock peel off and natural heating and cooling cause these to crack along existing fault lines to give handy brick-shaped blocks.

The medieval Shona people would accelerate the process by artificially heating and cooling the granite and by driving wooden wedges into cracks.

Notable features of the Great Enclosure include an inner wall that runs around part of the main wall to create a180-foot long alley, openings and doorways, smoothly rounded walls and rounded steps crafted with great skill. Inside the enclosure is a solid conical tower 30 feet high, a number of standing stones and traces of many daga huts.

The Valley Ruins

Scattered through the valley that surrounds the Great Enclosure are the ruins of many smaller stone enclosures and traces of more daga huts.

View of part of the 180 foot long alley that runs between the inner and outer walls of the Grand Enclosure.

Not the skill and precision of the dry stone masonry. The function of the alley is unclear – perhaps it was defensive, or perhaps it had some ritual function linked to the greater religious symbolism of the whole site.

These structures are the youngest and archaeologists speculate that they were built to accommodate the swelling population of Great Zimbabwe as its power and wealth drew in greater and greater numbers.

At its height the population may have reached 17-19,000, equivalent to that of medieval London. One of the enclosures is thought to have been where the wives of the mambo lived – there may have been up to 1,000 of them.

The layout of the site had socio-political aspects. The physical separation and elevation of the Hill Complex mirrored and demonstrated the status of the king, while lesser chiefs of the kingdom maintained smaller enclosures of their own on less elevated points and the common people spread around the valley.

When the population was at its height, Great Zimbabwe would have been a busy metropolis, with traders bringing in raw materials for craftsmen to process and farmers and herders keeping them supplied with food.

The function of the Great Enclosure itself, however, remains something of a mystery. It is thought that it may have been a royal palace or played a role in initiation rites and/or religious ceremonies.

Part of the wall is decorated with a frieze of chevrons, thought to have sexual symbolism, while the conical tower is an obvious phallic symbol that may have been a symbolic replica of Shona grain storage structures.

View of part of the 55-metre (180-foot) long alley that runs between the inner and outer walls of the Grand Enclosure. Note the skill and precision of the dry stone masonry. The function of the alley id unclear — perhaps it was defensive, or perhaps it had some ritual function linked to the greater religious symbolism of the whole site.

King Solomon’s Mines

The city began to diminish from the mid-late 15th century, probably because the gold fields that underpinned its wealth began to run dry, but possibly also because the area could not support the environmental demands – particularly firewood and grazing – of the population.

It was almost entirely deserted by the time that European explorers began to penetrate the interior of the continent, although subsequently there may have been low-level reoccupation of parts of the site and the Great Enclosure was still used for religious ceremonies.

This meant the largely empty city was available as a template for the assumptions and preoccupations of European explorers and treasure-hunters.

The stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe National Monument, a mysterious site once thought to be the source of King Solomon’s gold.

The first Europeans to report the existence of the site were the Portuguese, who had set up trading forts on the East African coast to access gold, ivory and the other riches of the continent, but who did not penetrate inland.

Native informants told them of the rich gold mines of the empire of Monomotapa and of its great fortresses called Symbaoe (possibly a misinterpretation of ‘Zimbabwe7), built of stones joined without mortar.

The Portuguese and subsequent Europeans connected Monomotapa with the legendary Ophir, said in the Bible to be the home of the Queen of Sheba and the location of the gold mines that were the source of King Solomon’s fabulous wealth.

By the mid-19th century, European explorers and missionaries finally penetrated the interior.

In 1870 eccentric German explorer Karl Mauch (who typically eschewed the use of porters or bearers and carried all his gear himself, while dressed in a suit of antelope hide leather and sporting a large umbrella as a sunshade) heard tales of Monomotapa from a missionary and determined to win glory – and possibly riches – as the discoverer of Ophir.

After various tribulations he reached the site and found the evidence he sought. Chipping a piece of wood from the lintel of a doorway he decided that it resembled his pencil, made from cedar, and must therefore have come from Lebanon.

To his mind this confirmed the obvious: such marvelous structures could not have been built by Africans, but must have been constructed by Phoenicians, ancient inhabitants of Lebanon. He went further, speculating that the Hilltop Complex was the Queen of Sheba’s attempt to replicate Solomon’s Temple.

Alas for Mauch, a search of the site revealed neither gold nor gemstones, while his discoveries were greeted with relative indifference back in Europe. He died in relative obscurity five years later, after falling from a window back in his native land.

Whitewash

This extraordinary and completely unfounded interpretation of the site was to dominate subsequent European conceptions.

The view from the hill complex

At the end of the 19thcentury the land around Zimbabwe fell into the hands of Cecil Rhodes, whose project for a British-dominated Africa required certain basic ideological and anthropological assumptions, namely that Africans were barbarous savages incapable of civilization and that it was the ‘white man’s burden’ to lift them out of their benighted state.

The British archaeologists dispatched to survey Great Zimbabwe confirmed Mauch’s earlier theory. The city had clearly been built by Phoenicians or other Mediterranean visitors, concluded James Bent in his 1892 book The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, which inspired H. Rider Haggard’s adventure novel King Solomon’s Mines.

Bent’s successor, Richard N. Hall, was incompetent and destructive, clearing 12 feet of soil and rubble from the ruins in an attempt to ‘restore’ them and thus irreparably damaging the archaeological record.

In subsequent decades the area became the country of Rhodesia and Great Zimbabwe became an ideological battleground.

For the white elite governing Rhodesia it was important that the ruins should have a non-African background, but as early as 1905 the archaeologist David Randall-Maclver compared finds at the site with the prevalent use of identical artefacts and technology by the Shona peoples still living in the area.

The tower is completely filled in with rock; its purpose is unknown.

He drew the obvious conclusion: Great Zimbabwe had been built by Africans, probably by essentially the same people that still lived there. Archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, sent to disprove his findings, instead proved them accurate.

The Rhodesian authorities would not accept this line. A cavalcade of eccentric theories was advanced, linking the ruins with everyone from the pharaohs and the Lost Tribes of Israel to the Vikings. Access to the site for Africans was restricted and government archaeologists were fired for straying from the party line.

Meanwhile the ruins became a key symbol for the African independence movement and when the country finally broke free of its apartheid system the nation’s name was changed to reflect this (although there is disagreement over which dialect of Shona ‘Zimbabwe’ actually derives from and thus whether it means ‘houses of stone’ or ‘venerated houses’).

Today Great Zimbabwe remains a politically charged place; a national monument that helps to define Zimbabwe’s cultural identity, but also a focus of grievances over the nations troubled colonial history.

…the Last Supper and the Passover.