The parable of the ten virgins comes right after a decisive teaching of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. In the chapter before, Jesus just gave his teaching on the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming. These parables that follow are all connected to the idea of Christ’s return. The parable of the virgins has two great meanings. We will discover both of these meanings as we go along. For now, let’s dive in and read this parable.
““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 ones, 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. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.””
So this is the parable of the ten virgins. Notice at the beginning Jesus says, “at the time the kingdom of heaven will be like…”. What is the time Jesus is referring to? In context, Jesus is referring to the time he just finished speaking about in chapter 24, his second coming. So Jesus puts this parable in perspective for us so that we know he is talking about the time of his return. So when Christ comes for a second time, the kingdom of God will be like these ten virgins who set out to meet the bridegroom. They waited a long time and the foolish ones missed his arrival and the wise virgins met him because they were prepared. Jesus then ends the parable with a warning of being alert because we do not know the time when he will return just as the virgins did not know.
As I stated earlier, this parable is two-fold in meaning the way I see it. First, in light of the warning Jesus gives, we must be prepared for his return. The moral of the story is to be like the wise virgins who were prepared instead of being the unwise virgins who were not prepared and missed their chance. Notice that all ten virgins had the same opportunity to prepare. It was not as if the foolish virgins had no oil to pack, they just decided not to bring it. Perhaps they assumed the time of arrival and thought they wouldn’t need extra oil. Likewise, all of us have the same opportunity to prepare. All of us have heard the good news of Jesus and it is up to us to respond. Romans 1:20 proclaims that God’s power is clearly visible. The question to consider is, how will you prepare and will you prepare for his arrival?
The question then becomes, how do you prepare for the return of Christ? What could we possibly do to prepare? One way to prepare is to live like you have been saved and have hope. Titus 2:11-13, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”. The grace we have received helps us to say “no” to the desires of the flesh so that we can say “yes” to God. We can also encourage one another as 1 Thessalonians 4 discusses. In this way, we can keep each other on track and keep pointing each other to the blessed hope we are waiting for. We can also continue to remind ourselves that Christ is coming back. As we read through Scripture we are reminded that this world is not the end, and the end of Scripture tells us that restoration is coming and that Jesus is coming to bring that restoration. This is our hope and we can be prepared by doing these things.
Being prepared literally is one fold of the meaning of this parable. The other meaning comes from the immediate context of Jesus teaching and ministry at this time. This parable comes in Jesus’ final days as he is in Jerusalem. They just walked by the temple, the disciples ask the questions of Jerusalem’s downfall and of his return, Jesus teaches them and then continues with this parable. The virgins in this parable can be likened to Israel. There were those in Israel that still followed Yahweh in Jesus’ day, but there were also those that did not. The wise virgins will be like those in Israel who follow and wait faithfully for Jesus. The foolish virgins are those who did not heed Jesus’ warning and will not enter salvation.
Remember the wedding banquet parable. The wedding banquet, which is mentioned in this parable, is the destination of the virgins. It is the celebration of the kingdom, it is the reward we will receive. The foolish virgins, because they were not prepared, were late to the banquet. They realized too late what they needed to do to get in. Likewise, some at the return will realize they needed to repent long ago. They will realize their fault, but it will be too late. This is why it is so important to hear the words of the gospel and believe.
The parable of the virgins is an eye opening parable as it is meant to be.The words of Jesus must ring in our ears as we wait for his return. “Therefore, keep watch”.