“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)
I once heard a well-known preacher preach on this passage, remarking that one should never preach on eschatology until you are old. As I approach my 59th birthday, I hope readers will accept that I might be old enough to make a few comments about the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
It is very important indeed to notice that this parable was delivered privately by Jesus to His disciples, as part of a lengthy discourse on the end times. The discourse begins at the beginning of Matthew 24, and continues through chapter 25, with this parable, the Parable of the Talents which follows, and finally comments about the final judgment. Thus these two parables are sandwiched between eschatological material, meaning that they also must be eschatological. Those brought up, as I was, on a bitty Sunday School Bible Stories diet will probably be familiar with the parables as stories, but are unaware of their place in Scripture, in the midst of Jesus’ discourse about His return.
Readers may, of course, be unfamiliar with the Hebrew wedding rituals, which include this unannounced and spectacular arrival of the bridegroom during the night. But it is clear who the bridegroom is. Parables usually have a character who represents Jesus himself, and in this one it is the bridegroom who represents Jesus. The bride, however, is not mentioned. We can assume from elsewhere (such as Revelation 21:2) that the bride is the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the Church – God’s Elect. In some ways, this bride is represented in the parable by the virgins. The fact that there are ten of them – in two groups of five, as we shall see – suggests the Church, comprised of many people. Their virginity is a mark of purity or holiness.
Jesus said that these events related in the story are what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. (Matthew 4:17) He was referring to His own rule, beginning with His time on Earth, and culminating both in His Earthly kingdom during the Millennium, and His heavenly kingdom thereafter. Where Matthew refers to “kingdom of heaven”, Mark and Luke use the phrase “kingdom of God”. These are the same thing – Matthew was simply writing for Jewish people, with scruples about writing the word God. With this in mind, it is clear that in Matthew 25, Jesus is preparing His disciples to understand how His kingdom will finally be ushered in. This is not the final wedding feast, but it is a visible and spectacular return of the bridegroom. It would make sense, therefore, to place this as the immediate prelude to the Glorious Appearing of Jesus. Perhaps the dark of night represents the time of Trouble, which Jesus has already mentioned in the previous chapter. In any case, it is clear that the virgins remain a mixture of wise and foolish, up until the Glorious Appearing of Jesus. This rules out the possibility of a pre-tribulation rapture, and is strong evidence that any catching up of true believers will take place at the conclusion of the time of Big Trouble, pretty much concurrently with the Glorious Appearing.
Although all the virgins represent purity, five of these virgins were foolish and five wise. They all had lamps. The lit oil lamps are symbolic throughout Scripture of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalms 119:105)
When the signal woke the girls, the five foolish girls realized that their lamps were going out, and they had no oil. Oil, also, is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and its limited supply for the foolish girls suggests that they were not really indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as we cannot lose His unction. They were, as so many are today, imitation Christians. They are there for the ride, but are unprepared for what God is actually going to do. Paul refers to such people in the last days:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Notice that the coming of the bridegroom is not an evangelistic event. This is how we know that the event is the culmination of the Big Trouble, and not some pre-trib rapture. In the present times, it is good and right to tell people the way of salvation. But the way of salvation is no longer available in this parable, so we must be referring to the end of the Big Trouble. Therefore, it is not selfish of the wise girls to refuse oil to the foolish girls. They can do no other. It is not possible for the wise girls to give or sell the Holy Spirit to the foolish, any more than Simon the Magician could buy the Holy Spirit’s power from the apostles (Acts 8:18ff).
The end of the parable is sobering. The foolish virgins find the door shut, and, recognizing who the bridegroom is, call “Lord, lord, open to us.” But Jesus had already said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
So the door remains shut, and the foolish girls, who were virgins – having the appearance of godliness – were kept out, with the words “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” This then, says Jesus, is how it will be at the end of the time of Big Trouble, when He returns; it will be a feast for those who are truly saved, and a time of despair for those who have merely made pretense.