The Parable of the Ten Virgins
by Jack Kelley
"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.
The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell
asleep. "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet
him!' "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones
said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' " 'No,'
they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those
who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' "But while they were on their way to
buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him
to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. "Later the others also came.
'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' "But he replied, 'I tell you the
truth, I don't know you.' "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day
or the hour (Matthew 25:1-13)
What's this parable all about?
This parable is often incorrectly described as having to do
with the church, especially by those who cling to the post-tribulation rapture
viewpoint. Let's apply some standard rules of interpretation to see what it
really means. As for the timing of the event, there's little debate since it's
clearly disclosed. The opening phrase "At that time" refers to several earlier
references in the Olivet Discourse all pointing to Matthew 24:29 which says,
"Immediately after the distress (tribulation) of those days..." This verse of
course refers to the Great Tribulation, a 3-1/2 year long sequence of judgments
begun by the appearance of the "abomination that causes desolation, standing in
the Holy Place," commonly thought to be the anti-Christ standing in the newly
rebuilt Jewish Temple in Israel proclaiming himself to be god as prophesied by
Paul in 2 Thes. 2:4.
So the timing of the parable is just after the end of the
Great Tribulation, when what's left of the world awaits the appearance of
Messiah, the King. But notice, they have been waiting a long time, implying that
the story actually began much earlier, and is now concluding. The parable
centers around 10 virgins, or bridesmaids depending on which translation you
prefer, awaiting the appearance of a bridegroom. The Greek word is parthenos,
which always describes someone who has never had sexual intercourse. The use of
the word bridesmaid comes from an attempt by translators to adhere to the
context of the story. But in any case, here's where some knowledge of 1st
century Jewish wedding traditions comes in handy.
Can I Marry Her?
In those days when a man took a fancy to a young woman, he
approached her father to ask for her hand in marriage. A brief negotiation
followed where the price he was required to pay as compensation for the family's
loss of their daughter was determined. It was called the bride price. If
acceptable, and if the daughter agreed to become the man's wife, they were
officially betrothed and he went away to build a home for them next to his
father's house. This could take some time, and the couple rarely met again until
the father of the groom pronounced the newly built home fit for habitation. Only
then could the date be set, and the man given permission by his father to go
collect his bride for the wedding. During this time the young woman was to watch
and wait. She and her bridesmaids were to maintain a constant state of
preparedness, since the wedding date would not be known to her until the
bridegroom actually appeared for her. For his part, the groom would usually try
to show up unexpectedly to surprise her, carrying her off suddenly "like a thief
in the night" when no one would see them. When the bridesmaids discovered the
bride had been "snatched away" there would be a great torch-lit procession,
announcing to the whole town that the wedding banquet was about to begin. This
was typically a seven-day celebration during which the bride and groom were
hidden away in their private rooms while the whole town made merry. The father
of the groom picked up the tab for the festivities.
I Can See Clearly Now
Against the backdrop of this tradition, the meaning becomes
clear when we insert the actual characters that those in the parable represent.
To do this, we'll rely on the principle of expositional constancy, from which we
learn that symbolism in scripture tends to be consistent. For example, whenever
yeast is used symbolically it always refers to sin, while symbolic use of the
word rock always refers to the Lord, etc. All through the scriptures, whenever
the term bridegroom is used symbolically, it always refers to the Lord. And no
one argues that the Bride of Christ is uniquely descriptive of the church.
Obviously, the bridesmaids are not the Bride so they can't represent the
church. In fact, the Bride is never mentioned anywhere in the parable.
She was obviously spirited away earlier while the bridesmaids slept. The
bridesmaids represent people on Earth during the Great Tribulation after the
church has gone. Got Oil? Now it's time for the wedding banquet but some
bridesmaids lack sufficient oil to light the way. Asking to borrow some from
their friends they're refused, since there might not be enough to go around, and
sent off to buy some for themselves. By the time they return the banquet has
already begun, the door is closed and they're refused admission, the bridegroom
claiming that he doesn't even know them. Checking on the symbolic use of oil, we
find it refers to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift uniquely given
to believers at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 1:13). You can't get
it for others nor can they give any of theirs to you. Each of us has to
receive it by ourselves and for ourselves. The bridesmaids with oil represent
those who will have given their hearts to the Lord during the tribulation period
after the Church has gone, while those without it symbolize others who haven't,
and only those who have will be invited in.
What's That Supposed To Mean?
So what does the parable mean? First of all, I'm convinced
it's not trying to hint at the timing of the Rapture. I believe it's sole
purpose is to serve as one of the clearest warnings the Lord ever gave to those
He would find still on Earth when He returns, and that's to make sure they're
ready to receive Him while there's time. When the Lord comes back at the End of
the Age, He'll find both believers and unbelievers present on Earth. Having
previously spirited His bride (the church) away, He'll now decide who should be
allowed to participate in the blessings of His Kingdom using the presence of the
Holy Spirit (the sealed of Revelation) in each one's life as the
determining factor. Those in whom the Spirit resides when He returns are invited
in but those without it will be excluded. Because just as importantly, the
parable teaches that His return signals the deadline after which even the
request to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit will be denied. (The foolish
virgins, as the story calls them, were on their way to get oil when the
bridegroom arrived.) The door will be closed, and the Lord will deny ever
knowing those who've asked too late. By not deciding for Him, they will have
decided against Him and once His return proves them wrong, there'll be no
opportunity to change their minds. For it is by grace that you have been saved,
through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and faith is being sure of what we hope for, and
certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God,
whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
Ephesians 1:10-13 That in the dispensation of the
fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both
which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have
obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who
worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the
praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after
that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also
after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
II Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God
standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.
And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.