Last Updated on : November 23, 2014

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The Parable Of The Ten Virgins
(Matt. 25:1-13)
By H.P. Mansfield, Story of the Bible, Vol. 11



The first parable in this series that depicts events at the second advent of the Lord, having, illustrated the fate of those who fail to conform to the instructions of Christ, this second one emphasises the need for personal preparation on the part of all. In the first parable, the "evil servant" openly gave himself over to debauchery, but there will be others who will not do this, and yet will fail to measure up to the requirements of Christ. This second parable illustrates that fact, and shows the cause of failure on the part of others; they did not provide sufficient oil in their lamps!

The parable was based upon the custom of the times. According to Edersheim, it was usual in the east for bridal processions to be conducted as described by the parable, and usually with ten such lamps. In the case of the parable, the virgins were selected for the purpose of bearing these lights, and had a responsibility to see that they each had sufficient oil, in order to provide adequate illumination to grace the wedding celebrations.

The parable commences with the statement, "then" shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins. The Greek word indicates a point of time: "at that time," the time being the future when the parable will apply. Further, in the Greek the word "heaven" is in the plural, "heavens." Matthew frequently uses this term for the Kingdom of God, doubtless aligning it with the statement of Daniel 4:26: "the heavens do rule." As such it becomes a very expressive description of the Kingdom of God on earth.


The Parable

Ten virgins were selected to grace a marriage procession. Their duties were very important. They were each given a lamp, and instructed to keep it filled with oil and burning brightly in anticipation of the arrival of the bridegroom.

When he appeared, it would be their duty to accompany him to the bridal home, where the marriage supper would take place.

On this occasion, however, the bridegroom was longer than had been anticipated, and in consequence, the virgins became drowsy, and the oil of five of them began to fail. Unfortunately for them, their attention was only drawn to this at the crucial moment when the cry was raised that he was approaching.

Immediately all was a scene of activity. The virgins started to their feet, looking to the lamps that they had by their side. They were burning low, and had to be trimmed; and it was at this moment that the five foolish among them found that their lamps were going out.

Now their activity bordered on panic.

They had vessels by their sides by which to replenish the oil in the lamps, but to their consternation, the five foolish ones found that they had not sufficient oil for the purpose.

Now they became panic stricken!

The failure of oil could not have occurred at a worse moment. It was late at night, the bridegroom was almost there, and yet if they did not obtain oil they would be shamed before all the guests and onlookers at the marriage.

In alarm and confusion they turned to the others, whose freely burning lamps indicated ample oil.

"Give us of your oil," they pleaded, "for our lamps are going out!'

But the others only had sufficient for their purpose;

"There is not enough for us and you," they replied. "Go to them who will sell, and buy for yourselves!"

They hastened to do so, but it was too late! The bridegroom came, and the procession moved on to the bridal home. It entered, and the door was shut.

Meanwhile, the foolish virgins returned, to find the procession had left for the bridal home. Their folly was apparent to all. The shame and disgrace of their state were borne home to them as they hastened to catch up, to the procession. Instead of gracing the wedding they had disgraced it to the disappointment and annoyance of all concerned. And now, hastening to where the marriage supper was to be held, and finding the door shut, they pleaded for entrance:

"Lord, Lord, open to us!" they called.

But they had shown no consideration for him, and by their negligence had almost ruined the glory of the occasion, and so he refused their request.

"Truly, I tell you, I do not know you!"

To "know" is often used in the sense of "approving" (Matt. 7:23; Ps. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:19, 1 Thess. 5:12), and the Bridegroom could not approve such conduct which adversely reflected upon both him, and his bride.

They were turned away. The bitter disappointment, the unavailing grief, the personal recriminations remained for them. Whilst inside was light and joy and laughter for those outside there was only darkness, gloom and misery.

So it will be for all those at the Judgment Seat who fail to have sufficient oil in their lamps.

How necessary it is that we give careful heed to these matters; that we watch ourselves, as well as the signs of the times. So the Lord concluded the parable by pressing home the lesson:

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man (i.e. the judge) will come."

By so doing, and heeding the message of these parables, we will avoid the disgrace and disappointment, the lamentation and frustration that will otherwise be ours at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But we must apply the lessons now; for tomorrow may be too late!

Interpreting the Parable

There are very important principles stressed in this parable which justify the closest attention and study.

Firstly, there is the number of virgins: ten. That is the number of completeness, and is frequently used in Scripture symbolically for a large, unspecified number (e.g., 1 Sam. 1:8).

Then there is the character of those referred to: they are "virgins." This teaches that they are those who have separated themselves from the world to serve Christ:

"These are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth . . ." (Rev. 14:4).

In contrast, the apostate religious systems of the world are symbolised as unfaithful women:

"Babylon the Great; the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth" (Rev. 17:5).

The parable shows that some of the virgins did not qualify for the marriage feast, implying that to merely separate from the world is to observe only the negative aspect of God's requirements, and is not sufficient; there remains the need to apply the affirmative principles also, and manifest the divine qualities in action.

The virgins are represented as bearing lamps fed by oil: symbolising the Truth shining in darkness (Ps. 119:105; Matt. 5:16). It was the responsibility of Israelites to beat out olives in order to make pure oil for the lamps in the Tabernacle and Temple. Similarly, it is the obligation of Christ's followers to carefully study the Word of God, that they might radiate its light in doctrine and action.

The 10 virgins were divided into two lots of five; another significant number. For five, is always associated with grace. In the case of the parable, five had grace extended to them; and five had it denied them; though, originally, both fives had been drawn by the invitation of Yahweh's grace or favor.

Five were wise. The word, in the original, is phronimos, and signifies that they were prudent, sensible, or wise in a practical way. They were not merely virgins of understanding, but virgins who applied the wisdom they possessed.

There is a gulf of difference between mere understanding of knowledge and the practical application of it.

The other five are described as "foolish." This is translated from the Greek word moros which signifies "dull, sluggish," and hence "stupid." The Gospel Treasury defines the meaning of the word as, "he who sees not what is proper or necessary." That being their attitude, these five virgins did not make adequate personal preparation for the important position to which they have been called.

They "took no oil with them" (v.3). Actually, they did have oil in their lamps, but not in the vessels they carried with them, and which provided reserves of oil. They lacked those reserves. They were like disciples, who having come to an understanding of the basic doctrines of truth, and having been baptised, fail to add to their knowledge of the will and purpose of God. They lack reserves of knowledge, and in times of stress or trial they more easily succumb to the pressures of life.

On the other hand, the wise "took oil in their vessels with their lamps" (v.4). They had ample reserves for any emergency.

The most solemn feature of the parable is the statement of v.5: "While the bridegroom tarried (cp. 2 Pet. 3:9), they all slumbered and slept."

They had anticipated that the bridegroom would come earlier than he did, but when this did not prove to be the case they became drowsy through the long wait. Some began to slumber, their heads nodding through tiredness, whilst others fell into a deep sleep. (The word "slumber" comes from a word signifying to nod the head.)

The parable suggests that all will be in that state: either with heads nodding in weariness, or else asleep in spiritual or literal death. The Apostles realised the significance of this suggestion and warned against it. "Let us not (spiritually) sleep, as do others," exhorted Paul, "let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess. 5:6).

The cry came at midnight, when least expected, and all arose to trim their lamps, that the light which identified them might shine forth at its best. Thus the oil symbolises the power of the spirit word, shining forth through individual actions and character. It was when the virgins came to trim their lamps, that the foolish realised how inadequate was the store of oil they had provided. Similarly it will be when we are brought under the pressure of the Judgment Seat, then we will all recognise how inadequate have been our preparations for it.

The foolish panicked and pleaded but in vain. As Psalm 49:7 declares: "None can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him." We cannot provide the oil or the light for others. Each one must shine forth on his own account. The wise virgins acknowledged this, a principle stressed later on by Peter who had previously listened to the parable with wonder as to what it might mean.

He later wrote:

"If the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:18).

The answer is: They will not at all appear as saved persons!

We must not be discouraged by the statement that the righteous scarcely are saved. If we really love God and seek to please Him, He will overlook our weakness and grant us eternal life.

Remember: He has revealed Himself unto us as a Father, and like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13). The Psalmist adds:

"For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (v.14).

But we must not delay using the means that He has provided us in order that we might be saved. Among the important things delivered into our care, is His Word. If we ignore it, or fail to use the privilege of prayer, we deny ourselves the means of strength that will enable us to "shine forth as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation" (Phil. 2:15). In that case, we, too will find the door closed against us, and all our pleading will be unavailing.

In the days of Noah, the door of the ark was closed against those who desired to enter once they saw the storm banking up (Gen. 7:16). In the days of Israel, the people called out of Egypt were not permitted to "enter in because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:18-19). At the Judgment Seat of Christ the door of the entrance to the Kingdom will be closed against certain, in spite of their pleading. Christ declared:

"When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us, he shall answer and say unto you, 'I know you not whence ye are' (Luke 13:25).

I Know You Not!

Christ will say, "I know you not!" In those words he will disown those virgins who claim to know him.

Why will he do this to those who are described as "virgins?" Because with all their profession of belief, with all their verbal acknowledgment of the principles of Christ, and with all their external identification with his ecclesia, they have failed to build into their lives the slightest resemblance to his character.

There is no real likeness to the true family of Christ.

They have failed to apply in action what they may have acclaimed in word.

The Psalmist declares the need of revealing in deed the significance of doctrines embraced:

"Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in Yahweh," he exhorted worshippers who, in his day, failed to apply the principles they professed." (Psa. 4:5)

If we fail to do that God will ignore us in time of trouble:

"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, And would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation; And your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; When distress and anguish cometh upon you, Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; They shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; For that they hated knowedge, And did not choose the fear of Yahweh: They would none of my counsel: They despised all my reproof, Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, And be filled with their own devices. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safety, And shall be quiet from fear -- of evil." (Prov. 1:24-33).

These are solemn words of wisdom demonstrating the difference between the wise and the fool. In view of the fact that the bridegroom is at the door, it becomes most important that we apply the principles stressed therein, in case we, too, are found among those to whom the Lord will speak, when he sadly declares: "I know you not."

Paul summarises the matter thus:

"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" (2 Tim. 2:19).