The Parable of the Ten Virgins

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As a child growing up, I loved reading and hearing the parables Jesus told in His messages.  Like most children, I loved hearing these stories, even though I didn’t always understand their meanings.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the “Parable of the Sower” in Mark’s Gospel, a story that conveys the principles for understanding all parables, according to Jesus’ own words (Mark 4:13).  In Chapter 4, He relates that the stories He is telling convey spiritual truths that could only be understood by those who were given the “mystery of the Kingdom of God,” or those who are like good soil–deeply receptive to the messages in the stories and not influenced by  the destructive influences of Satan or the world .

In the Matthew’s  Gospel, Chapter 25, we find another significant parable that conveys more secrets divine that  God wants to reveal to His followers.

25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 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.’ 10 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. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

In many ways, the meanings of this parable seem fairly easy to understand.  In a number of places in the New Testament, for example, we are informed that Jesus Christ is like a Bridegroom, who will come some day to receive His Bride the Church.  Jesus is clearly declaring in His parable that He is the Bridegroom.

A Great Mystery

Likewise, the Church is seen in many places as the Bride of Christ.  One of the clearest examples is in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.  (Ephesians 5:25-32)

Note the very last verse.  It says that the relationship Christ has with His Church is like a human marriage, and Paul’s conclusion is that husbands ought to love their wives in the same way Christ loves the Church.  Paul concludes that this analogy is a great “mystery,” one which reveals the love Christ has for the people who make up His Body, the Church.

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Who Are the Virgins?

In Christ’s parable, we hear of ten virgins who await the coming of the Bridegroom.  They wait with their lamps lit, but five of the ten are foolish and do not have extra oil in case the Bridegroom’s coming is delayed.  Consequently, when their Lord’s coming is delayed and the virgins fall asleep, five of them find that they haven’t enough oil to keep their lamps lit for the Lord’s arrival.

The lesson, Jesus says, is that we need to be prepared for His arrival, for we do not know the day nor the time of His coming.  We don’t want to miss Him when He comes!

This is where a point-by-point explanation of Jesus’ parable becomes difficult, for clearly the ten virgins are not depicted in the story as the Bride.  Instead, they are depicted as bridesmaids who are charged with welcoming the Bridegroom to the wedding feast.

Does this mean they are not  Christians?  Aren’t they part of the Body of Believers who make up the Church?

Most analogies, or stories told to make a point, break down logically at some point, for no analogy is perfect since it doesn’t describe the true situation completely.  It only relates the truth metaphorically or analogically, in the form of a comparison.  Comparing two things completely is not possible since they are separate similar, but not the same.  

The only thing that matches that thing completely is that thing itself!

My sense is that the ten virgins in the story are also part of the Bride of Christ, but in this case they only represent those Christians who will be alive when Christ comes again.  Therefore, if Christ comes for His Bride during our lifetimes, we are told, we need to be ready.  The virgins aren’t criticized for falling asleep, nor for letting their lamps run low.  Only the five foolish virgins are disadvantaged, however,  because they were not ready with sufficient oil in their lamps.  They didn’t have an extra supply of oil, so they tried to get some from the five wise virgins, who said that they wouldn’t have enough either if they gave some of their own away.  Ultimately, the five foolish virgins go out to purchase some from dealers in the middle of the night, an unlikely time for sure!  Then they had the door to the wedding festival shut on them and the Lord denied them entrance.

The Application

I believe that the most important question about the parable, therefore, is what is the oil?  What does it represent?  How can we be sure we are prepared?  Does Jesus mean that we all need to buy a lot of olive oil and keep a supply with us?

Searching the Scriptures, we find many depictions of the Holy Spirit of God, who is portrayed as a “violent rushing wind” and “tongues as of fire” on the Day of Pentecost when the first believers in the Church were filled or immersed in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).  The Holy Spirit is also seen as a dove when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (John 3:13-17). 

However, oil in the Scriptures is often used as another metaphor for the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…” (Luke 4:18). 

Later in Luke’s The Acts of the Apostles, Peter says to the gentiles gathered at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). 

After Peter’s message, the impact is immediate:  “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:44).

 We can conclude, then, that to have sufficient oil for the appearing of the Lord Jesus, when He comes to gather His Church, means to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we may “let our light shine” to the world and those around us, regardless of our circumstances.

How Are We Filled?

Reading the Acts of the Apostles, we find many times when the followers of Christ were not only filled with the Holy Spirit, but also were refilled or remained filled.  The Apostle Paul wrote that if we live according to the Holy Spirit in us, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, but instead will manifest the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24).  

Thus, we need to invite the Spirit of God to constantly fill us with His power and the manifestation of His Spirit.  We do this by asking, for we have not if we ask not (James 4:2).  In addition, we must be on guard against “quenching” the Holy Spirit, as Paul related to the Thessalonians: 

Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from everyform of evil.  (I Thessalonians 5:16-22)

Following Paul’s teachings, dying to ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to live the life of Christ in us, we will be like the wise virgins in Christ’s parable, for our lamps will be continually filled as we wait for His coming.

 


 

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