This parable is taken from a sermon that Jesus preached which is called the Olivet Discourse. It is found in Matthew 24 and 25 and its a sermon in which Jesus speaks about His second coming. And this particular parable is a warning parable. There are several such warning parables in this sermon.
The disciples had asked Him the question, which initiated the sermon, “When shall these things be?” In other words, they wanted to know the time of the second coming, the time of the establishing of the Kingdom, the time of setting up the Messiah’s rule on the earth. His answer came in chapter 24, verse 36, “Of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven nor the Son, but my Father only.” He repeated it in verse 42, “Watch, therefore, for you know not what hour your Lord comes.” He repeated it in verse 44, “Therefore be also ready for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of man comes.” He also repeated it in verse 50 where He says, “will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know.”
And Jesus repeats this principle again in this parable, in chapter 25:13. “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” This parable’s intention is to teach us the suddenness and the unexpectedness of the coming of the Lord which should call us to be ready so that we are not unprepared for His coming.
Now when He introduces this parable by saying the kingdom of heaven is to be comparable to… we should be clear as to what the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” refers to. The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, refers to the same thing. It was prophesied as coming with the prophets up to and including John the Baptist. The kingdom of heaven was inaugurated with the birth of the King, Jesus Christ and as His ministry commenced, it was said, the kingdom of heaven is here, it is in your midst. The kingdom of heaven then is not something in the future, but it is in effect now, as Jesus Christ reigns as king of kings and Lord of Lords, in heaven at the Father’s right hand, and His kingdom is over the world – over all the world, both the righteous and the unrighteous.
The ministry of Christ and His apostles then, and our ministry, is to tell the world how they may enter into the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. How they might become citizens of the kingdom, sons and daughters of the king, part of the court of the king, part of His administration. But everyone on earth is in one sense a part of the Kingdom of God, they are subject to Him whether they recognize Him as King or not. But only those that receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior inherit the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. They are made a part of His kingdom. Everyone who rejects Him as Lord is in rebellion, and one day they will receive judgment fitting to their rebellion. Jesus talks about that judgment at the end of this sermon in vs 32, saying in vs31-34, 41 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. … 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”
That day of judgment is consummated at His return to earth to claim His kingdom. He will destroy all those that rebelled against Him. He will consume with fire the earth and all that is in it. And He will make all things new, a new heavens and a new earth. And He will take His seat on His throne and righteousness will dwell on the earth, and those that are His people shall live in the new heavens and new earth with Him forever, whereas those who rejected Him will be cast out of the kingdom into outer darkness.
Let me just give you a couple of glimpses of that day which are found at the end of John’s book of Revelation. I just want to pick out a few phrases which help illustrate this idea of how God’s plan for His kingdom come about at the end of the age. [Rev 19:11, 13, 15-16. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it [is] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. … 13 [He is] clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. … 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
And over in Rev 21:1-3 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer [any] sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
Now that passage which refers to the church as the bride of Christ is especially significant in light of this parable that we are looking at today. The church is often referred to as the bride of Christ. That analogy is better understood if you understand the way in which Jewish weddings were conducted in those days. There were three stages to a Jewish wedding in the times. The first stage was engagement – a formal agreement made by the fathers. The second was betrothal – the ceremony where mutual promises are made. The third was the consummation of the marriage – approximately one year later when the bridegroom came at an unexpected time for his bride and there was a marriage supper and then the bridegroom took his wife to her new home. That explains the frequent mention in scripture of the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is the time directly following the Lord’s return for the church, as a celebration of the beginning of the eternal age in which we reign with Christ forever.
So as we consider this parable which Jesus gives in the context of His return to claim His bride and consummate His kingdom, we notice that He begins by saying, “then.” He is referring to the time of His appearing. The parable is meant to teach us that Jesus is coming. That He is coming to judge sinners and to reward the righteous. That He is coming in a sudden and unexpected moment and everyone should be prepared. And afterward there will be no second chance. People may knock all they want, but the door will be shut. The day of opportunity will be past.
Jesus begins this parable by speaking of 10 virgins, which would be the modern day equivalent of 10 bridesmaids. That’s who these young women were. There is no special spiritual significance to virgins other than that they are supposed to be part of the wedding party. They have been invited to participate in the wedding. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”
Theologians like to debate inconsequential things in scripture. And there seems to be a debate on what the lamp was like. Whether it was more of a torch on a stick or a small hand held lamp which had a bowl of oil and a floating wick, it really doesn’t matter. They both depend upon oil as the fuel for the fire.
The significant thing is that Jesus says five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish. Wisdom and foolishness are often used in the Old Testament scriptures as well as in the teaching of Christ as a simile for salvation or damnation. If you are wise you build your house upon the rock, if you are foolish then you build your house upon the sand. That principle of wise or foolish is frequently applied to either salvation or the rejection of salvation.
Now the wisdom or foolishness of the virgins is predicated on the fact that they either brought a supply of oil for their lamps or they did not. Vs 3 “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.” Jesus makes the condition for being either wise or foolish clear; the wise have oil, the foolish do not.
The question that we are left to figure out is what does the oil signify? The lack of oil is shown as a lack of being prepared for the Lord’s return. It is the reason that five of the virgins are considered foolish. It is the reason that five of the bridesmaids are locked out of the wedding feast.
Jesus doesn’t tell us what the oil is. But He does tell us that it is essential for entry into the feast. So we can extrapolate that without oil, whatever that is, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Theologians have long debated this point as well. But the traditional view of the Protestant faith, is that the oil signifies the Holy Spirit. And that would seem to be the most consistent view with scripture.
We know that the Spirit is essential for salvation. In John chapter 3, the quintessential passage of scripture regarding salvation, Jesus tells Nicodemus that you must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. He says this in vs 5-6 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” So salvation comes through being reborn of the Spirit of God. Paul explains it further in Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” So he makes it plain that having or not having the Spirit of Christ is the qualifying factor for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
But there is an Old Testament scripture I want to share which also shows this relationship with the Holy Spirit as oil. And perhaps that is the basis for Jesus using oil as analogous to the Holy Spirit. It’s found in the vision of Zechariah in Zech.4:1-6 “Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
So there we see that the lamp is supplied continuously by the oil and the Lord says that it is by the Spirit that the lamp stand gets it’s light. So I believe we can safely assume that the idea behind what Jesus is teaching here is that at the consummation of the kingdom some will possess the Holy Spirit and some will not, and those who do not will not be able to enter.
Now that is illustrated in the parable. Jesus continues in vs 5 “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and [began] to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet [him.]’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you [too;] go instead to the dealers and buy [some] for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.”
Another aspect of this story that bears consideration is Jesus says the bridegroom was delaying his return. What that means is that there will be a time of waiting for Christ’s return. The time is going to be delayed longer than anticipated. And we have certainly seen that. It’s been 2000 years since the resurrection, since the betrothal, since the bridegroom went away to prepare a house for His bride. And the church has been expecting Christ’s return to be soon ever since. The fact that the women grew drowsy and fell asleep is not given as a condemnation, but simply as an expression of the reality of the church’s expectation beginning to wane.
However, I will say that I am seeing a lot more interest in people lately who are looking at current events and believing that the end of the age must be upon us. And I understand that mentality. We find it hard to believe that things can get much worse. But the fact is that we don’t know the day nor the hour. There have been many other periods of history when circumstances were at least as dire as they are now, if not more so. I would suggest for instance that the time of the second world war would have been an opportune time for Jesus to return according to many people living in that day. There had just been the Great Depression in this country, a nationwide famine, and then these world wars. Hitler would have made a great candidate for the anti-Christ. So I hesitate to look too much at world events and try to draw conclusions about when the Lord has to return. What this parable indicates is that it’s going to be at a time when you don’t expect Him. The fact that they grow drowsy indicates that they don’t seem to think it’s going to be at that time.
But at midnight there was a shout. “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Paul says in 1Thess. 4:16 that the Lord’s return shall be preceded with a shout. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
When the virgins hear the shout, they rise up to meet the bridegroom. They were to raise their lamps and go out to join Him in the procession. But at that point the distinction between the wise and the foolish virgins is made clear. The foolish do not have enough oil, and though they would like to borrow some from the wise virgins, they cannot do so. The wise virgins say, “No, there will not be enough for us and you [too;] go instead to the dealers and buy [some] for yourselves.”
Now Jesus is not speaking literally here of an actual chain of events, but He is speaking allegorically. As I mentioned earlier, in vs 31 of this chapter He speaks more literally of this separation between those who are His and who are outside the kingdom. He speaks of a judgment that will occur when He comes again and takes His throne.
Now back in the parable we see the five foolish bridesmaids return to the site of the wedding to find that the door had already been shut. That phrase is reminiscent of the door that was shut on the Ark in the days of Noah. Jesus had referenced that earlier in this sermon in chapter 24 vs 37, saying, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” If you remember the Genesis account of the flood it says the Lord shut the door to the ark. And likewise, the coming of the Lord effectively shuts the door to the kingdom of heaven.
Notice the foolish virgins begged the groom to open the door, crying out, “Lord, Lord!” In the Bible, the repetition of a name often communicated intimacy, such as “Abram, Abram!” or “Absalom, Absalom! or Mary, Mary!” It indicates that those being turned away looked at the bridegroom with a degree of intimacy. They thought that they knew Him, they thought that they belonged to Him. Yet, the bridegroom replied that he did not know them.
Jesus speaks of a similar thing in another sermon, one known as the Sermon on the Mount. He said in that instance in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter.] “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”
When Jesus says, “I never knew you,” He is not speaking in a cognitive sense, but in a personal and familial sense. He is saying “You do not belong to me.” “You are not of Me.” They were not born of the Spirit, and so they do not belong to the Lord. “I do not know you.” That’s a tragic, horrible sentence of condemnation to give to someone who obviously thought that they belonged to the kingdom of God.
This parable is not speaking about pagans who have never heard the gospel. Rather, it speaks of the danger towards those who claimed faith in Christ but have never been born again. It is a warning that while there is still time before the coming of Jesus Christ, it is not too late to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. The Bible says that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I’m afraid that there are possibly many people in the church today, who profess to know Jesus, but Jesus does not know them. They are not His. The difference is they have not been born of the Spirit. In the parable Jesus says half the virgins were not allowed into the wedding feast. We can extrapolate from that possibly 50% of people that are “in the church” are not actually saved. When I look at the church on a national scale, those that consider themselves to be Christians, I don’t think that number is an exaggeration.
This parable calls all professing Christians to examine themselves. To prayerfully to discern whether they truly have been born again. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, ““Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” In other words, He is saying, “wake up.” Consider your situation carefully. Don’t be lulled into sleep by apathy. Call upon the Lord while He may be found. Make certain of your calling.
Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
The Lord is coming back soon. It could be today. It could be tonight while we are sleeping. We don’t know the day or the hour. But it will be at a time when we are not expecting it. And His coming will be a sudden, final judgment which will shut the door of opportunity for salvation. I pray that you are wise, and evaluate the time, and make sure of your salvation.