Does God’s grace stop at the parousia? #lectionary

Cartoon by MUF

This is just a quick chuck out thought as I grapple with the Lectionary Gospel for this week – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

The question that’s bugging me is this: does God’s grace stop when Jesus returns in glory (what some posh folk call the parousia)?

Last week my friend was preaching on Jesus as the vine (John 15:1-17) and raised the tension in the Bible between the doctrine of God’s abundant grace and the idea that those who do not remain connected to Jesus the vine, will not only wither but be collected together and burnt. It’s almost like no second chance is offered – which is not what grace says. He didn’t find a resolution to the question.

We’re now turning from a sermon series through the “I am” sayings to the lectionary as we start to turn towards the Advent season. And here I am looking at the young ladies waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25, and struggling with the same sort of issue because of course those that were unprepared are left shut out by the bridegroom from the wedding feast.

Here’s what I think, please tell me if you disagree or can teach me more:

God’s grace and forgiveness are unlimited in the world as we now experience it – a place where God’s Kingdom is breaking through but not complete. We constantly have the opportunity to seek Jesus, to turn to God for forgiveness and to receive his love because of that beautiful word GRACE.

But, there will come the point where this will no longer be true, because when Jesus comes in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1) those who have not prepared themselves by playing their part in the breaking through of that Kingdom, will find themselves shut out. They will no longer have a chance to change their minds, seek forgiveness, or go off an make suitable preparations by accepting Jesus as their Saviour.

So, does this line of thinking hold theological water?

[More of MUFs cartoon are here]




  1. This line of thinking may “hold theological water”…. but is it the real question for us at the moment? And if it does “hold water”, is this immediately an indication that it is a bit too tidy? I think of John 21.21-22. And I think of the continual temptation to make God and God’s ways fit our own, limited framework. Then of course, comes the risk of pronouncing that something is God’s will/plan when actually it is our own construction. It seems to me that although Jesus talked of the end times, if pushed on details of how and when he refused to be drawn. May be there are other questions to consider and things to do.


  2. Rosalind I totally grant that we can not, and must not try to, judge others, and we certainly don’t know how we will experience the second coming, but the whole focus of the Kingdom parables in Matthew (and other things in the Bible) seems to me to be saying there will be some sort of cut off point when we’re either invited to the party, or shut out. The time of grace will be over.

    It seems at this time of year, to lend an urgency to our preparations to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, and the need to at least encourage others to take the opportunity to take up the ‘spare oil’ and leave the house with it, well prepared for whatever the future might hold – time and hour unknown.


  3. And of course you’re right on this! Totally ignoring it (which I grant, is what I often wish I could do when all the apocalyptic stuff cmes up in the lectionary in November) is one of the temptations of a view of Jesus’ teaching that concentrates on the offer of grace and mercy rather than judgement. But the problem of talking about a “cut off point” is that we are using the concepts of this particular bit of God’s creation that we live in – I know it’s Pauline but John’s take is a bit more subtle, I think, and is more about rejection or acceptance of the offer of God’s grace and mercy both now and into the parousia, and doesn’t really separate the two times.
    So I suppose, is there a danger of saying that we can be as horrible and sinful as we like now as long as we know when it really is our “last chance” and repent then (a bit like the stories of early Christians postponing baptism till their death bed in order to make suer they didn’t undo the salvation offered in baptism). I recognise it’s a balance that we are continually working on because we are only human – but the parallel risk of looking towards judgement beyond this life, is that we take our eyes off what is going on in this world , which is where God has put us at this moment.


  4. As I read this parable, I hear a word about keeping attentive, to remember that the parousia can come at any time, so keep focused on the kingdom. As for the question of grace, while it seems that this particular parable suggests it’s absence, if God’s grace is truly rooted in God’s love, then can we say that there are limits? Consider Paul’s statement that at that day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Is it because of coercion or because in the end, when we allow ourselves to be taken up in God’s grace we stop resisting?

    Just some thoughts!


  5. The point of so many of Jesus’ parables is that there is a cut off point. It brings in that word we don’t like to use today very often – judgment. We don’t often get “sheep and goats” sermons in mainline churches. Maybe we should.


    • I’m hoping that in what I preach on Sunday I shan’t have completely sidestepped the issue – I’ll post the sermon and you can see what you think!


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