Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 52. The Ten Virgins
Mt 25:1-4 At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Now there is something special about this particular parable: see how it starts: “At that time.” (v.1a) What time is Jesus referring to? Well, he has just been speaking of the “the coming of the Son of Man” (24:39) and then concluded with the parable of the servants waiting for their master to return (24:45-51) so he is clearly speaking about the End Time when he will return. This is a story that is a warning that more obviously brings the warning, that the previous parable only had as a subtitle – he WILL come again and so to those in the future he says, be ready!
Again, as always, the parable was simple and easily understood by the people of his day. There was an impending wedding and so ten young girls went to meet the bridegroom who would be coming to the wedding festivities and because that time might go on beyond dusk, they needed to have lamps with them. That was part of their role, to provide lamps that would light the way for the bridegroom and light up the wedding festivities. That is the background here. (v.1)
Now here is the thing. Of these ten, only five of them were properly prepared, having made sure they had plenty of oil in their lamps and a backup bottle or jar of oil as well. They were described as wise, but the other five didn’t take ‘any oil’ it says, and they were described as foolish. (v.2-4). Now we are then told, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep,” but then, “At midnight the cry rang out: `Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (v.5,6)
So of course they all wake up and at that point chaos ensues because the ones without an oil supply find their lamps are going out so they can’t be light providers (v.7,8) and ask the others for oil, but the others protest, hey, we can’t do that otherwise our lamps will go out, you need to go and buy some more oil quickly. So the ‘foolish’ girls depart and while they’ve gone, the bridegroom arrives and so both he and the five ‘wise’ girls go into the wedding banquet. (v.9,10) and the door is shut. Thus it was that when the other five returned, it was too late and they were refused entry (v.11,12)
Now Jesus does not explain this parable, even to his disciples, and so we are left to reflect and ponder on it by ourselves. In general terms there are two things that come through in this story. First, there are apparently some things you just can’t get hold of at the last moment. Second, there are apparently some things that you can’t just borrow from others at the last moment. This is a story about having your own supplies.
So what are those ‘supplies’? Well in Christian terms they are the things that a born-again believer has which an apparently religious person does not have: the experience of surrender, repentance, being forgiven and cleansed, being adopted into the family of God and of being empowered by His Holy Spirit and being given a future inheritance. Those are all the things that the born-again believer has but, equally, they are the things that the self-centred apparently religious person, the self-righteous person, does NOT have. The have a form of religion, a form of godliness, without the power of it. (2 Tim 3;5). These people, says Jesus, will not in an instance be able to conjure up genuine repentance and receive a genuine experience of being born again, and so when they go away to try to do something about it, it will be too late, Jesus will have come and they will be on the wrong side.
Now there are many aspects of this story that are unclear – and Jesus didn’t try and explain them. Such as who are the ten girls? Simply those who are drawn to the wedding and have desire to be part of it. Who are the foolish ones? Those who ignore the basic requirements for entry into the kingdom of heaven and rely upon their own endeavours and ignore God’s way of salvation through Christ. What are their lamps? Essentially an expression of their lives and their ability to bring light to the wedding. How do they provide light? By oil. What is the oil? Well, usually in the Scriptures it is a picture of the Holy Spirit but here even the unprepared ones appeared to have a measure, even though it ran it. Perhaps it is just the life source given by God that is intended to enable a relationship with Him in eternity to come about. The foolish ones don’t replenish that and therefore miss out. The wise ones ensure they have more than enough. Enough of what? Perhaps the truth of the Gospel, being sure that you ARE saved and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have the witness that you are a born-again child of God. Perhaps the foolish ones simply heard these truths but never reached out to experience the fullness of them.
But all this is pure speculation and the danger when we focus on the secondary issues is that we lose sight of the main two things we noted previously – there are some things you just can’t get hold of at the last moment and there are some things that you can’t just borrow from others at the last moment –and the final warning is given by Jesus to round off the parable: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (v.13) Enough said! Be prepared, make sure you have a sound and sure faith as God provides it!