In my early studies on this parable, I have found widely varying interpretations and applications. Interpretations that are complex and specific, about which I question the requirement of.
Some of the links of this parable with our current understanding of Christianity included associating the sleep of the virgins with the sleep of death, or that the oil represented either the “works” of the foolish virgins, or the “faith” of the wise virgins.
As I pondered this effort to identify each specific item in the parable, I became engulfed in the details and lost focus on the main point. As a Pastor friend of mine once said… Keep the main point the main point. Therefore, I will seek to stay focused on the main point of the parable.
And what is the main point of the parable? Let’s read the passage, and consider my faithful questions below.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 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.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
As mentioned in a previous post Parable Surprises – Fig Tree, the parables spoken by the Messiah are directed to His disciples, the apostles who would lead the church in the near future, who would, in my understanding, watch the Lord build a nation of believers, starting from a nation that was dying on the vine, ready to be spewed from the land.
When did the Lord give this parable?
This parable was provided within a week of the crucifixion.
As an aside, might the disciples have remembered this parable after the crucifixion, (but before the resurrection) and even mocked this delay He spoke of! The delay would be forever – all hope is gone! What a cruel promise is this parable without faith. And yet, the disciples, even after this gut wrenching, hope crushing disappointment, were used mightily of the Lord.
But I digress.
Where did the Lord teach the parable?
As with the previous parables, this one seems to be continued directly after the faithful and wise servant parable, given on the Mount of Olives.
Why did the Lord give this message?
This question is sometimes the most difficult question to answer. Not so with this parable.
This parable is given to warn the disciples that they do not know, nor will they know, when the Son of Man comes. This is the intent of the parable. Identifying additional terms, (like the oil or the lamps) are inconsequential, even distracting, from the intent of this parable. Watch therefore! But alas, I am getting ahead of myself, for we have to find out what the message was for the original audience, prior to making any application for ourselves!
What was the message for the original audience?
Peter James, John and the remaining disciples were listening intently to these parables, not realizing that they were some of the Master’s final stories.
In hearing this parable, they had just come off listening to instruction of staying awake.
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
And now we have a parable about ten virgins, all of them falling asleep. I find it instructive that within this parable, all ten virgins slept and are not judged on this. The wise virgins slept.
Previous teaching during this same period (minutes before?) the disciples were instructed to “stay awake”. What gives?
Parables, in my understanding are telling a story with a message, not twenty messages. One parable does not necessarily convey into the next. Each parable has a point – take the point and move on!
Matthew 24:42, 43 speaks of alertness, of understanding that we are to expect Him when we least expect Him. If we are looking for signs of His coming, this may indicate that we are not expecting Him when we least expect Him. This is actually detrimental to the Christian faith!
The previous parable speaks of a servant assuming the Master’s delay, and the subsequent results of this wrong thinking that led to his suffering.
Matthew 24:48, 50-51
But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’
the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know
and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable of the ten virgins speaks of preparing, even planning for a delay. The foolish servant in the previous parable, assumed a delay for the purpose of selfish indulgence. In this parable of the ten virgins, we are not told why they didn’t prepare. Five of them simply did not prepare for any delay.
As you can see, these parables are to “stand on their own two feet”, to communicate one primary message to the hearers.
So the disciples had been taught of the need for alertness, and of the consequences of thinking wrongly of the Son of Man’s coming.
And in this parable, be ready, be prepared for the Bridegroom’s coming. “Watch therefore” in the parables concluding verse, must include the concept of preparation.
One last topic to bring to my readers attention, is the phrase “the door was shut” in verse 10. Even as the foolish virgins came back with oil, they could not enter the marriage feast. The opportunity had passed.
It seems this unpreparedness was characteristic of these foolish virgins, for the Bridegroom spoke of not knowing them. I am assuming that the bridegroom had a say in choosing these virgins for his celebrations. Did he misjudge their character, and from this say he didn’t (really) know them?
Don’t misunderstand – our Lord knows each and every one of us. Humanly speaking, this bridegroom had misjudged the five virgins. He didn’t know them the way he thought he knew them.
What is the message for us today?
So, what is the main point Carl? Be prepared. To “be” something implies a constancy, a consistency, an existence. Therefore, we need “to be” of such character that we are one’s who are prepared, have a character that looks to be prepared, that plans and prepares for possibilities within our abilities.
Personally, I believe Matthew 24 & 25 is providing teaching to the disciples of the coming of the Son of Man upon the nation of Israel in 70 AD, and that Jesus was giving His disciples direction regarding the dissolution of the political nation of Israel. But that conclusion isn’t critical in finding the important application to be drawn from this story.
This parable was directing the disciples to watch and be prepared for the Son of Man’s coming. A coming that would take 40 years to be realized for Jesus’ apostles. A coming that, in the disciples lives, would occur late in life, even with some of them not actually living to see it.
Long term preparation! Not a preparation that can be accomplished in a moment.
If this is correct, we need to understand that what was intended for the apostles, in the Lord’s call for their character, is not something we should dismiss. Be prepared for His ultimate coming, for I can promise you that His coming will be within your lifetime, (or one nanosecond later!)
Get right with Him, walk with Him, beg for wisdom in living a life of preparedness and watchfulness.
Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.