This parable is a very important aspect of God’s people being prepared. In the previous chapter, Matthew 24, this state of preparedness and readiness is emphasised (see verses 36-44). This last verse states: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.”
Ten virgins were waiting to welcome the bridegroom, five being wise and five being foolish.
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary observes that “Then—at the time referred to at the close of the preceding chapter, the time of the Lord’s Second Coming to reward His faithful servants and take vengeance on the faithless.” The word “then” can be overlooked as it comes at the start of a new chapter; had this man-made separation of chapters not occurred, it would have more easily have been seen as a continuation of the same theme at the end of the previous chapter.
The bridegroom is Jesus Christ (compare Matthew 9:15; Revelation 19:7-9). We must remember that some of the early apostles expected Jesus to return during their lifetime; for instance, Peter, Paul, James and John (see Acts 2:16-21; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 2:18).
In the parable we are addressing, there was one group of virgins who were unprepared for the long delay of the bridegroom. When the cry was heard at midnight (verse 6), the two groups were told to go out and meet him.
Interestingly, in the parable that Christ gave before the one that we are now reviewing, the faithful and evil servants are addressed (Matthew 24:45-51). We read in verses 48-50: “But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.”
The evil servant was more involved in society rather than with the ways of God, and it is a lesson for God’s people of every age.
The foolish virgins (verse 3) took their lamps with no oil in them and the wise (verse 4) took oil in their lamps. As will be shown, the meaning is that the five foolish virgins did not take any EXTRA oil with them. They still had oil in their lamps, as their lamps were still burning, but it was not enough. The foolish failed to take into account all circumstances including that of the possibility that the bridegroom might come later than expected. As they all slumbered and slept (verse 5), the wise virgins would awaken and get ready but the foolish would be ruing their lack of foresight and application. They tried to obtain oil from the wise virgins but this was not possible. They had foolishly assumed that the wait wouldn’t be for too long. Only the wise virgins became ready to attend the wedding.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary makes these observations: “The wise virgins kept their lamps burning, but they did not keep themselves awake. Too many real Christians grow remiss, and one degree of carelessness makes way for another. Those that allow themselves to slumber will scarcely keep from sleeping; therefore dread the beginning of spiritual decays. A startling summons was given. Go ye forth to meet Him, is a call to those prepared. The notice of Christ’s approach, and the call to meet him, will awaken. Even those best prepared for death have work to do to get actually ready, 2 Peter 3:14. It will be a day of search and inquiry; and it concerns us to think how we shall then be found.”
The Church has long understood that oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. This also applies to the oil in the parable of the ten virgins, in Matthew 25.
The Holy Spirit is not static. It is being used and needs to be refurbished. Even the lamps of the foolish virgins were still burning… the five foolish virgins say in verse 8: “our lamps ARE GOING OUT.” So, the Holy Spirit was still within them, but they did not have enough of the Holy Spirit to get them ready for the return of Christ.
In our Q&A on oil and the Holy Spirit, we state the following:
“There are many passages that convey and support the understanding that oil is used biblically as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. For instance, we read in Mark 6:13 that Christ had His disciples anoint sick people with oil, and they were healed. We know that Christ healed the sick with the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 8:43-46 — the Authorized Version has here, ‘virtue,’ but the literal meaning is, ‘power,’ compare New King James Bible. Compare, too, Mark 5:30; Luke 6:19).
“Christ gave His disciples the same ability to heal sick people by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 16:18), which presence is symbolized by the anointing of the sick person with oil (James 5:14).
“Another example for this symbolism is found in the famous parable with the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:3, 4, 8). They all fell asleep, and the oil of the five foolish virgins was going out — that is, they were losing more and more of the power of the Holy Spirit within them.
“1 John 2:27 speaks of our anointing abiding in us. This is a clear reference to the Holy Spirit that had been promised by Jesus Christ (John 14:16; 16:13). In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul admonishes Timothy to ‘stir up’ — or to ‘re-kindle’ — the gift of God, referring here to the Holy Spirit….”
It is interesting that this parable does not end with the warning that the five foolish virgins will be cast into outer darkness or the lake of fire; and that there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is therefore possible that the unprepared five foolish virgins will live on, in the flesh, with other human beings, into the Millennium. They will most certainly not be transformed into Spirit beings at the time of Christ’s return, but it does not say that they will be killed or thrown into the lake of fire at the time of the third resurrection. Still, the point of the parable is that those who are unprepared will not enter the Kingdom of God when Christ returns.
The Pulpit Commentary observes as follows: “These virgins represent believers divided into two sections; evidently they are all supposed to hold the true faith, and to be pure and undefiled followers of the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4), to be waiting for his coming, and to love his appearing; but some fail for lack of… perseverance…”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states the following: “… there is a very lively description given of the… judgment… as also, because it appears elsewhere, that such will be the formal, lukewarm, cold, indifferent, secure, and sleepy state of the church, before the second coming of Christ…”
How many people over the years have looked at and studied prophecy to conclude that the end of the age was near and when this didn’t happen as they predicted or expected they just gave up on the Christian way of life? Christian behaviour should never depend on a deadline for the Second Coming. We are called to a way of life and the Father will send Christ back to this earth at precisely the right moment without any help from any human being.
Jesus Christ will return to this earth as many prophecies in the Bible clearly show. For those who think that He doesn’t need to return, that the Church is the Kingdom of God and other wrong ideas, they will be in for a shock when this event does occur. Matthew 24 clearly shows that Jesus will return and if He didn’t then mankind would literally blow itself to pieces: “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (verse 22).
The elect of God are those whom God has called over the course of the last 6,000 years. They will be in leadership positions in the Kingdom of God (compare Isaiah 2:1-4 and 9:6-7). In 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 we read about those called: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.”
Scoffers were predicted in the last days: “…knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (see 2 Peter 3:3). We must never fall into this category.
Our preparation and readiness for this event involves our own continual personal growth and supporting the true Church of God. We need to have a sense of urgency because even if Jesus Christ does not return in our lifetime, when we die, our next waking moment will be at His return if we are faithful to the end (see 1 Corinthians 15:52). We simply don’t know how long we each have to live.
Preparedness, alertness, anticipation and readiness are qualities that we all need, and letting down in our Christian life will put us in the same predicament in which the five foolish virgins found themselves!
Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link