While Jesus and His apostles sat atop the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem shortly before His death, they asked Him about the events that would herald His future coming in power to reign (Matthew 24:3 Matthew 24:3And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?
American King James Version×). His response, known as the Olivet prophecy or discourse, begins in Matthew 24 with a marked increase in troubles leading to world catastrophe. He continues with a number of lessons about facing that time, concluding in Matthew 25 with three parables about the outcome of our spiritual condition in the day we stand before Him.
We’ll here look at the first of these—the parable of the ten virgins.
Ten betrothed virgins
A key theme of this parable continues from the end of Matthew 24, where Jesus says, “The master of that servant will come on a day . . . and at an hour that he is not aware of” (verse 50). It’s a sudden return, with even these followers of Christ caught by surprise.
Transitioning to the parable, He begins, “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1 Matthew 25:1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
American King James Version×).
The subject here is a wedding. In that ancient culture the parents were involved in the matching of a bride and groom, and the groom was expected to pay a special bride price to the bride’s parents for the right to marry.
The engagement period could be lengthy. Once an agreement was settled the groom would then prepare a place to share with his bride. Often a new room was added onto his parents’ home. When it was finished and declared ready, he would go and fetch the bride, typically at night with close friends. Through the streets of the village would go the shout, “The bridegroom is coming!” Then commenced a wedding ceremony and celebration lasting several days.
In other passages it’s clearly established that Jesus is the Bridegroom, that God the Father has prepared a wedding and that God’s Church, made up of Christ’s true followers, is Jesus’ Bride—now “betrothed . . . as a chaste virgin to Christ,” spiritually speaking (2 Corinthians 11:2 2 Corinthians 11:2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
American King James Version×; see Ephesians 5:22-32 Ephesians 5:22-32  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.  This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
American King James Version×). The 10 virgins of the parable thus represent those in the Church, portrayed as spiritually pure, going out to meet the returning Christ to join Him in glory.
Lamps and oil supply
Each of these virgins carries a light to make their way in the dark, the Greek word lampas used here meaning either a clay oil lamp or a torch. To keep the light burning for either one, it was essential to carry enough oil for an extended period. Spiritually we need the light of God to lead us, shining out to us and through us. And the olive oil that fuels the light parallels the supply of the Holy Spirit, itself compared to anointing oil (compare Philippians 1:19 Philippians 1:19For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
American King James Version×; Acts 10:38 Acts 10:38How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
American King James Version×).
Matthew 25 continues: “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (verses 2-3).
The 10 virgins here represent the entire Church. They go out to meet the Bridegroom, Christ. By receiving the Spirit they have the life of Christ in them (Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×), and they live a life of preparing.
All had God’s Spirit. The five who were said to be wise took vessels of extra oil. The other five, the foolish, did not. The difference in preparation would yield a difference in spiritual growth and power. The wise kept access to the Holy Spirit flowing, using it to take on the divine nature and grow in grace and knowledge.
All woken from sleep
Continuing: “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept” (verse 5).
An engagement period could be stretched out. The delay in this case is the time between Christ’s first and second comings. The seeming delay can lead to loss of urgency. Peter warned that scoffers would ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4 2 Peter 3:4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
American King James Version×). It’s a sign of the last days that even those who watch and wait for His return will grow weary, let down and fall asleep.
Christ said that “they all slumbered and slept”—the whole Church. Of course in our mortal weakness we can only go so long without falling asleep (compare Matthew 26:40-41 Matthew 26:40-41  And he comes to the disciples, and finds them asleep, and said to Peter, What, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
American King James Version×). Physically we need sleep. The real problem here is a matter of preparation—of not remaining alert by exercising and using God’s Spirit.
Next: “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’” (Matthew 25:6 Matthew 25:6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.
American King James Version×).
The voice of the bridegroom was heard in the streets. The time for the marriage was at hand! The whole town would be aroused to join in the festivities.
The announcement of Christ’s return comes amid the great spiritual darkness of the end time, with the world in the grip of spiritual deception and drunkenness. Yet those with God’s Spirit have the help needed to see through the deception and resist the way of the world.
The announcement of Christ’s coming stirs people awake. Then what?
Personal responsibility to prepare
“Then all those virgins got up and put their own lamps in order” (verse 7, Amplified Bible). The preparation allows for more light from the lamp or torch. Here it means the Church is awake and anticipating the coming of Christ and the marriage to the Lamb (see Revelation 19:7 Revelation 19:7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
American King James Version×). When the call of Christ comes, we must wake up and be ready to go to Him and be wed.
But something is wrong with five of the virgins. Those called foolish see their light going out. They need oil but have no more to refill their supply. “And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out’” (verse 8). Yet it doesn’t work that way in spiritual terms.
“But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves’” (verse 9). Salvation is a personal matter. You cannot borrow a relationship with God. Christians are told, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 Philippians 2:12Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
American King James Version×). The power of the Spirit must be at work in each disciple individually.
To keep our spiritual “oil” full, we must be regularly renewed with God’s help through the means He directs us in—especially prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting, fellowship and ongoing repentance with obedience. (Read our free study guide Tools for Spiritual Growth to learn more.)
The coming of Jesus Christ will not only stun the world, but even those looking for and anticipating His arrival need to wake up. Will the cares of the world lull some to sleep?
A warning to not put it off
Whatever it may be, this parable shows that many will awake and find they are not fully prepared to go with Christ to the wedding. “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut” (verse 10).
Frantically the foolish virgins return and seek entry into the supper. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (verses 11-13).
There’s an ominous tone of finality to these verses. Is all lost without hope? Is there room for repentance? At some point it will be too late. But another way to understand this parable is to recognize that the preaching of the gospel even today is effectively part of the shout that the Bridegroom is coming. So there is still time to do what is needed to stay spiritually filled.
For those Christians who are neglectful, Christ will knock at the door of their hearts to be let in, as in the message to the “lukewarm” church at Laodicea in Revelation 3. He tells them to “buy” from Him “gold refined in the fire”—godly character obtained amid trials—urging repentance (verses 16, 19; 1 Peter 1:7 1 Peter 1:7That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×).
But as the parable teaches, a time will come when no further opportunity remains. And who knows how long your own life will last? So don’t put it off.
The parable also gives us the key to enduring to the end of the age and entering into the marriage supper at Christ’s return. That key is the help of the Holy Spirit. Seek to keep it full in your life. In the darkness of the end time, those with enough oil will have the light to guide them and keep them empowered. Make sure you’re in that group!