One of the most exciting themes of the Scriptures is that of Biblical Prophecy. The Old Testament often speaks of what will happen in the future relating to the Kingdom of God. There are over 400 appearances, foreshadowings and prophecies that relate to the person of Jesus Christ as the Messiah in the Old Testament. We know that King Jesus has come in the Kingdom of God and yet there are still questions regarding the prophetic and futuristic nature of this kingdom. In Matthew 24:1-3 the disciples and Jesus get into a discussion about the temple leading to a question about the future. “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” This is the beginning of a discourse where Jesus teaches about the signs of the end of the age. There will be deception, false Christs, wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, birth pains, persecution, many will be led into sin, love growing cold, the abomination that causes desolation, fleeing to the mountains, great distress, the sun will be darkened, lightning from the east to the west and the Son of Man will appear. Wow, what a list. Christians do differ on how to interpret the Bible’s prophetic portions, but in Matthew 24-25 we have several clues. Firstly, these are the very words of Jesus. He tells us, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36). “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42). Once again Jesus’ teaching is followed by several parables. Today, we will be looking at the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins has brought up much debate as to the meaning of the words of Jesus. This is because of the futuristic nature of Jesus’ teaching in Matt 24 followed by him telling this parable and two more, the Parable of the Talents and the Sheep and Goats. Several things can be confirmed as truth, the bridegroom is Jesus Christ, this parable describes Jesus’ return and that not everyone makes it to the wedding.
On the other hand, the historical setting can be known with a fair amount of certainty. Jesus is describing a first-century Jewish wedding which differs greatly from our contemporary wedding ceremonies. In an ancient Jewish wedding there are three aspects to consider. Firstly, the shiddukhin (mutual commitment); this is the getting to know one another and each other’s family, prior to engagement. Secondly, the erusin (engagement); the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows. This was a public ceremony where the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year. Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations. The bridesmaids were responsible to keep the bride faithful during this year of waiting. During the year or so of engagement, the groom would get ready a suitable place for living while the bride prepared herself and her wedding dress. Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride. For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night. Lastly, there was the nissuin (marriage) which was consummated in the marriage bed, making certain that the bride was indeed a virgin. When the groom finally arrived with some of his closest friends, there would be a processional through the street in the evening to their new home. The bridesmaids would each carry their own torch surrounding the bride on the journey to her new home.
Coming of the Bridegroom
Let’s look again at the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There are some important things to take to heart in the context of the signs of the times related to Jesus return. First, there are various interpretations related to the Return of Jesus. Is it his return for the rapture of the Church? Is it his return to set up the Millennial Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation? Is it his Second Coming ushering those into eternity? I am not going to attempt to answer these questions here. Regardless of which return it is, the lessons to be learned are relevant to all. This parable’s main lesson is to be ready because the groom will return at an unexpected time.
The Ten Virgins
The parable focuses on the Ten Virgins, five foolish and five wise. Why would Jesus use the number 10? This number was significant to the Jewish people, it would capture their attention; 10 men to hold a synagogue service, 10 men were present to confirm circumcision, 10 in a house to keep the Passover, 10 present at a marriage, Boaz had 10 witnesses at his marriage (Ruth 4:2), God would spare the city for 10 righteous (Gen 18:32) and of course the 10 Commandments…
There are also various interpretations as to who the virgins represent. The 10 virgins all had oil. Does this mean they were all Christians? Five Christians who profess Jesus and live it
Five kind-of Christians who don’t possess Jesus. Or five spirit filled Christians and five without the Holy Spirit. These ideas have been debated throughout the years.
The 10 ladies did have things in common; All were virgins, All had lamps, All had oil, All were waiting, and All fell asleep. Why? Because they were waiting for the bridegroom to come late into the night. The foolish did not have enough oil in their lamp which was most likely carried on a large pole and was used for walking at night to light the way, not a small table lamp. The wise virgins took extra oil in jars. This highlights a significant difference between them. The word for foolish in the Greek language is “moros” from which we get the English word moron; to be dull of thinking, lacking common sense or judgement. On the other hand, there were five wise virgins who were exercising good judgement, insight and prudence as seen in Prov 22:3 – “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” The wise virgins were thinking ahead. We don’t know when the groom is coming? We should have extra oil just in case.
What is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach? In the Last Days (it has been the Last Days for every generations since the Day of Pentecost) it is IMPORTANT to have EXTRA OIL, not just the oil in the lamp... What does it mean to have extra oil? What does the oil represent? At times we are excited about our relationship with God, and the Second Coming and are filled with passion. Or maybe in other moments we are tired and weary with life and busyness and waiting. When I think of “extra oil” I think of a Christian life filled with the fulness of God. This speaks to me of an over flowing of the Holy Spirit who gives us the character and capabilities we need to live an overcoming life – to the end.
I find the idea of five foolish virgins not making it to the wedding a sobering thought. In the context of the Coming of Jesus Christ, Jesus is saying that not everyone will endure to the end and make it to his Wedding Supper. When the five foolish virgins ask for oil from the wise, the answer is to “go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” Of course, it is too late, and the result is not making it into the wedding, which implies not making it into heaven. They ask for the door to the wedding to be opened but the bridegroom says, “I don’t know you.” The warning to the church “throughout the ages” has been – beware of the dangers of catnapping, comfort, compromise or convenience; these will produce foolish living. Five virgins left behind is a terrible thing… “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 25:13).
The punch line of the parable is that Christ will return at an unknown hour and that his people must be ready. Being ready means preparing for those difficult situations that arise in our lives by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus at all times. It is important to keep our lamps burning with passion so to speak. There are times when life is hard and challenging but we must trust in the Lord to help us endure through those circumstances. Whatever we may be doing, whether working, eating, sleeping, going to school or enjoying holidays. We must be doing life in such a way that we don’t have to “make things right” (get more oil) when the Bridegroom comes.
We don’t want to be the five virgins without enough oil present to make it to the wedding. They were enjoying the benefits of the wedding community but were without true love for the groom. Sometimes there are “foolish Christians” who think that their association with true believers will bring them into the kingdom at the end. They make think, I go to church… so everything is OK. “I have prophesied in Jesus Name,” “I have cast out demons in Jesus Name, and performed miracles” (Matt 7:21-23).
Undoubtedly, we must make sure we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must understand and experience what it means to be born again through the saving faith of Jesus Christ; his virgin birth, sinless life, his death and burial and resurrection from the dead. This parable is a strong reminder to make sure our lamps are full and that we have extra oil, no matter the circumstances of life and no matter how long we wait. The wise virgins were more interested in the coming of the Bridegroom than the wedding itself. This must be our desire as well, to know Jesus and to be fully known by Jesus.
The one thing the bridegroom longs for is relationship and intimacy. One person’s faith in Jesus cannot save another. Our faith in Jesus must be personal and corporate, obedient, loving, and surrendered. At times, we may feel like we are missing some of the “fire in our hearts” for Jesus. That’s ok, as long as we recognize our lack of passion and take measures to fill our lamp with oil and take extra along.
Three important lessons come to my mind for application.
We don’t know the day or time therefore keep praying, waiting and watching with joy and anticipation. Think about the return of Jesus. Take time to meditate on the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Get excited for Jesus’ return.
Fill up your lamps with oil. “I pray that you fill me with the Father, the Son and the holy Ghost, no, not the Holy Ghost – the Holy Spirit” … Ask the Lord for his character to fill your lives; the fruit of the Spirit. This is the grace-ability to live each and every day for the glory of God. This does not mean we are always going to be perfect, but that we are agreeing to be true followers of Jesus.
Fill up your jars with EXTRA oil. I believe this is a combination of hope and expectation and faith in action. Nothing is too difficult for God. But there are circumstances that can be beyond our comfort zones. This is where we need EXTRA oil to last through the long night.