The parable of the ten virgins follows Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem as well as His response about the “end of the world” (Mt. 24:3). Unlike the fall of Jerusalem in which there was a sign which warned that Christians were to flee the certain destruction that fall would bring “When ye see the abomination of desolation” or “Jerusalem compassed with armies” (Mt. 24:15-16; Lk. 21:20-21), there will be no signs when Jesus will, by His coming, bring about the destruction of the world — just Jesus’ appeal: “therefore watch” (Mt. 24:42). And, in order to teach His disciples how to watch, Jesus gave two parables: the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:1-30).
The figure of a marriage feast or that of a bride and bridegroom were common ways by which God depicted His relationship to His people. In the Old Testament repeatedly God spoke of Israel as being His wife and God described Israel’s fall into idolatry as “adultery.” In the New Testament, in addition to the parable of the virgins, Jesus gave the parable of the marriage supper (Mt. 22:1-14) to illustrate truths about His kingdom. John the Baptist spoke of Christ as a bridegroom while he filled the position of the “friend of the bridegroom” (Jn. 3:29). Paul continued that figure when he urged husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church and himself up for it” (Eph. 5:25). To the Corinthian church Paul said, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). John the apostle looked forward to the ultimate union of Christ and His bride, His church, writing, “I saw the holy City, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).
The parable of the ten virgins does not speak of the bride and bridegroom as it teaches about the kingdom. Instead, it refers to other members of a Jewish wedding party. The virgins welcomed the bridegroom and escorted him to the marriage feast. In the setting of this parable there were ten of these virgins: five wise and five foolish. The five wise carried their lamps but additionally had extra oil in the event the bridegroom delayed his coming. The five foolish also carried their lamps but gave no consideration that extra fuel might be needed, therefore carried none. While the bridegroom tarried all the virgins fell asleep, but were awakened at midnight by the cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him” (Mt. 25:6). Then all the maidens arose and trimmed their lamps, but the lamps of the five foolish were going out. They asked to borrow oil from the wise who responded that they did not have enough to lend. They advised the foolish to go and buy extra oil. They did, but while they were gone the bridegroom came and those who were ready went in with him into the marriage feast. When the five foolish came, they found the door shut and they were refused entrance into the feast.
It is not difficult to identify many elements of the parable. The bridegroom is Christ. His coming is the end of the world. The virgins are Christians. The sleep of the virgins is the sleep of death. It also is not difficult to understand several lessons to be learned from the parable. Remember, the parable was given to teach men how to watch for the Lord’s return. One lesson which is obvious is that all must make their own preparation for the Lord’s return. The five wise were not selfish for not sharing their oil with the foolish. There simply was not enough for all. All of us will give account of ourselves to the Master on the judgment day (Rom. 14:12). All must stand and personally give account of the deeds each has done in the body, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). Only one can take my place and bear my sins: the Lord Jesus Christ. The lesson from this parable is that at the judgment it will be too late to seek the cleansing power of His blood. Preparation must be made before we die.
Solomon wrote in Ecc. 11:3, “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if a tree falleth toward the south or toward the north in the place where the tree falleth, there shall it be.” The rich man learned this sad truth when he asked Abraham to send Lazarus and give him a little relief with a drop of water on his tongue. It could not be done (Lk. 16:26). The Hebrew writer said, “It is appointed unto man to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
One might ask questions such as, “Would the foolish have been allowed in the feast while their lamps were burning?” or “Suppose the bridegroom had come ere the extra oil was needed?” or “Can one do more than necessary to be ready for the Lord?” These are foolish questions, and the truth is we cannot press a parable to teach more than it teaches. Clearly the foolish had not made adequate preparation nor had the wise made more preparation than necessary. Jesus said, “When ye have done all the things that are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants. We have done that which it was our duty to do” (Lk. 17:10).
We must be fully committed to our Lord. Peter wrote, “Sanctify in your heart Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:15). Paul wrote, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15). The great commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind” (Mt. 22:37). A full commitment on the part of the foolish virgins would have made them realize that since they could not know at what hour the bridegroom would come, they should prepare for a delay in his arrival by carrying extra oil. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that me, but Christ who liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith. The faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Let all so resolve and live.