The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom [a]is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Matthew 25:1-13)
With three parables in Matthew chapter twenty-five comes the conclusion of the Master Storyteller’s final parables. This series is a byproduct of Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the time of His second coming (Mt. 24:3ff). All three parables speak of Christ’s return and Judgment Day. The word “then” refers to the great event of the Lord’s return.
Background of Bridegroom’s Coming (25:1)
Marriage in first century Jewish culture was somewhat different. It was not uncommon for parents to arrange marriages while the bride and groom were still children. A formal betrothal or engagement ceremony was held. At that time the dowry was paid to the parents of the bride. This betrothal was absolutely binding. The couple was looked upon as husband and wife, and unfaithfulness on the part of either was considered adultery.
When it was time for the marriage feast the friends of the bridegroom went and brought the bride and their attendants to the home of the groom. The young unmarried women who are friends of the bride would wait with her for the arrival of the Bridegroom. If he lived a ways off the time of his arrival could be delayed. The bride is not mentioned because she is not essential to the main theme of parable.
Why ten virgins in this parable? According to Talmudic authorities the lamps used in bridal processions were usually ten. Ten was the number of persons required to be present at any office, ceremony, or formal benediction. Wherever there were ten Jews living in one place a synagogue was to be built. Ten is the number of completion. This parable is not trying to teach that half will be saved at the second coming and the other unprepared half will be lost.
The lamps were made of pottery, shaped like a circular, covered bowl. One end of the clay was pinched to hold a wick while the other side has a small handle of clay. Since the oil-reservoirs were small, a small jar of olive oil was carried to refill it. When the procession of the marriage feast began these lamps were attached to long hand held poles and carried high above the head to give more light to those in the procession.
Seven days of feasting followed the wedding ceremony. If the bride was not a virgin but a widow, the feast only last three days. Once the feast began the door to the home was shut. No wedding crashers were permitted, including latecomers.
Anticipation of Bridegroom’s Coming (25:1)
Obviously all the virgins are waiting for the bridegroom’s return. This return is the Christ’s Second Coming. The implication of the parable may be that the virgins represent Christians who “love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). According to some the oil represents the Holy Spirit while the lamps are the hearts of Christians. Others say that the lamps equal faith while the oil is the accompanied works. It’s not necessary to make each detail of this parable mean something. In fact, the lamp and oil have no real meaning other than to show the need to be prepared. There are many similarities among the ten virgins. All were invited to the wedding feast. All accepted the invitation. All were alike in their knowledge and in their ignorance. All of them knew the bridegroom was coming, but none of them knew when. All the virgins had lamps. All had the same potential opportunities. All their lamps had some oil. All of the women became drowsy and fell asleep. All dressed alike in the same virgin attire. All have made some preparation with regard to the coming of the Bridegroom. The only difference is that five made sufficient preparation while five did not.
Preparation for Bridegroom’s Coming (25:2-4)
Practically everything that is done requires preparation beforehand. School tests are passed when students prepare by studying before hand. Family trips go more smoothly when proper preparation is made when packing. All Christians can be prepared for the return of Christ. Since it will be the greatest journey and examination of their existence sufficient preparation is wise. As the Amos advised, “prepare to meet thy God” (Amos 4:12).
Adequate preparation is contrasted with foolish neglect in this parable. No one can neglect proper preparation and be considered wise. In an earlier parable of the Builders (Matt. 7:24-27), Jesus contrasted the wise man who built his house on the rock contrasted with the fool who built his on the sand. It is easy for Christians have a false sense of security relative to their soul (Mt. 7:21-23).
The disciples of Christ cannot neglect preparation and be ready for His coming. Forethought for the future and cautious preparation for the unforeseeable is part of wisdom. The five virgins were not ungodly or immoral. They did not make allowance for the possibility of the bridegroom’s delay.
Far too many Christians are living a life of foolish neglect. They are not prepared for the Lord’s Return because they are neglecting being always ready. Today, most believe they have plenty of time to do the work which will prepare them for heaven. They keep putting off Bible Study, prayer, attendance, self-examination, etc. One day when the Lord comes back they will find their lamps burned out and no oil available.
Delay of Bridegroom’s Coming (25:5)
According to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians some early Christians had the impression that Christ’s coming was very soon, that is, within a matter or months or years. In this parable Jesus hints at the fact that His return may be delayed. The second coming would not be immediate. If He had said plainly that He would not come for many centuries, early Christians would have been robbed of strong motives to live holy and be ready at all times.
As the night wore on, some are nodding and napping while others fall fast asleep. The indication is that both the wise and the foolish are resting. This is not an implication negative behavior on their part. After all, those who are adequately prepared can rest. Those who were not prepared should have been out purchasing more oil for their lamps.
Abrupt Coming of the Bridegroom (25:6)
Wise preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord is essential because He will come “as a thief in the night”. He will come when least expected just as the bridegroom showed up at midnight. All will be awaken at “the voice of the Archangel and the trump of God” (1 Th. 4:16).
The suddenness of His return will likely evoke emotions of all kinds. Some will be afraid. While some will be in despair and desperately try to get ready at the last possible moment. Others will rejoice at His Coming.
Individual Responsibility at the Bridegroom’s Coming (25:7-9)
All ten arose from slumber and sleep to greet the bridegroom by first trimming their lights, that is, they cut off the ends of the wicks for a better flame and consequently more light. Some might read this parable and find fault with the wise virgins for being so stingy and heartless. However, the lesson is that personal preparedness cannot be bought from others any more than one can pay another Christian to obey God’s commands for them. The wise virgins pointed out that if they shared their oil they would soon be in the same predicament. One cannot borrow obedience from another any more than they can borrow righteousness. Preparation for Judgment Day is an individual matter (2 Cor. 5:10). Each soul must see to its own lamp. Salvation cannot be bought or shared. So the wise virgins are not being selfish, but wisely pointing out to the foolish that they cannot heed their request.
If one’s home is one fire it is too late to install a smoke detector. Minutes after crashing your car into the back of another car is not the time to buy auto insurance. The Day of the Lord’s Return is not the time to start making preparations for one’s eternal soul. For the five virgins to go out at midnight and find a merchant open for business at midnight and sell them olive oil for their lamps would have been next to impossible. One day the opportunities afforded the saints will be past and no time remaining to pack for heaven.
Separation from the Bridegroom (25:10-12)
How is it that the Bridegroom did not know his bride’s virgins. “I know you not” is a Jewish idiom, for “favorable knowledge.” The five foolish virgins were no longer counted as acquaintances. They were too late to be invited in. They lost their reservations.
One day the door of opportunity will shut forever. Today, the door is open. Once one misses Heaven his exclusion is unalterably permanent. The door in the parable is shut to include the wise and exclude the foolish. This reminds us of Noah’s ark. When Noah’s family and the representative animals had entered into it, the Lord shut the door (Gen. 7:16). All the banging on the ark door would not make one difference for God had sealed it closed. The phrase “and the door was shut” is one of the saddest in the Bible.
Admonition of the Bridegroom (25:13)
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” All parts of the parable are to be interpreted in reference to this admonition. Spiritual alertness to the coming of Christ is wise and will make the difference between who goes to Heaven and who is shut out forever. The one sure way to be ready on that Day is to be ready every day.
– Daniel R. Vess