By: Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
The Parable of the "Ten Virgin :(Matt. 25:1-13)
The Parable of the "Ten Virgins" is a well-known Bible story. Preachers have preached it to generations of Christians to the extent that it almost sounds boring and hackneyed to hear it preached again from the pulpit. But do give me a hearing! The ‘Parable of the Ten Virgins’ is one parable you can’t afford to ignore if you hope not to be disappointed at the return of Christ.
In the story Christ likens the Kingdom of heaven in a future sense to "ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom". Five of the virgins were said to be “wise" and the other five "foolish". While the foolish took no extra oil, the wise did. Meanwhile, the bridegroom delayed his coming, and the ten virgins after sitting around and waiting for a while "all slumbered and slept". Then "at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes! Go out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps" (vv. 6-7).
Only that half the bevy trimmed their lamps to no avail. The lamps of the five foolish virgins gave only a flicker and went out for shortage of oil. They begged their wise companions, "Give us some of your oil".
"But the wise answered, saying, No, lest there be not enough for us and you. But rather go to those who sell, and buy for yourselves". While the five foolish virgins peered their way through the darkness in search of a seller, "the bridegroom came. And they who were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I do not know you. Therefore watch, for you do not know either the day or the hour in which the Son of Man comes" (Matt. 25:1-13).
An Ancient Hebrew Wedding is on
The ceremony of virgins (or more aptly bridesmaids) meeting the bridegroom has all the trappings of an ancient Hebrew wedding. At this stage in the marriage solemnization, the bride had already been betrothed to the bridegroom some time back (Ez. 16:6-8). And the final ceremony to usher in the wedding and seal the marriage contract was the fetching of the bride from her father’s house by the bridegroom accompanied by his friends (John 3:29; Mark 2:19). The event usually took place at night amid pomp and cries of wedding joy. As the bridegroom appeared in the distance with his company, it was the duty of the bridesmaids– already alerted by the approaching noise-making–to meet him and welcome him to the bride’s home. On fetching the bride, the party headed to the home of the bridegroom for the marriage supper (Ps. 45:14-15; John 2), whereupon the door was shut and no late arrivals were allowed in.
The ancient Hebrew marriage furnishes us with an enduring picture of the spiritual relationship that exists between Christ and His church. At this present stage in our Christian life, we are betrothed to Christ as "a chaste virgin" (2 Cor. 11:2; Hosea 2:19) whose bride price He paid with His own blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23; Eph. 5:25). And what He expects of us is to remain pure for Him (Eph.5:26-27; 1 John 3:1-3) so that He might come for us to celebrate "the marriage supper of the Lamb" in His "Father’s house" where there are "many rooms" (John 14:1-3). But we must be "ready" when He comes at the sounding of the midnight cry, "Behold, the bridegroom comes!" accompanied by an announcement from heaven:
"Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
"And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
"And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God" (Rev. 19:7-9 RV).
What then are the lessons to draw from the parable of the ten virgins? What attitudes should we imbibe as end-time believers and what should we discard?
I apply the parable mainly to our present end-time generation of believers because Jesus Himself indicated so in the parable. Instead of the present tense ‘the Kingdom of God is’ as in other parables (e.g. Matt. 22:1), He used the future tense, "the Kingdom of God shall be likened to ten virgins". The clear meaning, of course, is that the parable will assume greater relevance in the very last days leading up to His return, which is no surprise since Matt. 25 is actually a thematic continuation of Matthew chapter 24. In this chapter in which Christ exhorts His church to look out for the end-time signs culminating in His second coming, He gives a series of warning messages which task us to ‘be alert because I will come at a time you don’t expect Me’ (vv. 40-51).
Are you alert, waiting and ready for your Lord whenever He will come? Let the two different attitudes displayed by the two groups of bridesmaids of the same company guide you to an honest answer.
The Attitudes of the Virgins
Some commentators try to find a symbolic significance in the number of the virgins. While ‘ten’ denotes duty and among the Jews was the minimum number required for a congregation to be formed, there’s no compelling reason to attach any special significance to it, except that it represents the entire membership of the end-time Church. (See Lam. 2:13; Zech. 2:7-10, 9:9; Rev. 21:9).
Of this membership, belonging to one faith and exposed to the same spiritual stimuli, some are "wise" and others are "foolish". Yet, all do what is generally expected of them, evidenced by the fact that they all went out to meet the bridegroom, each duly carrying her blazing torch to light her way in the dark. We see then that the characterization of some as wise and others as foolish do not relate so much to their innate character as it does to their actions. In this sense, the "wise" are wise in terms of how they do their things, and the "foolish" are foolish in terms of how they also go about their activities.
The Wise had Forethought
Considering that the wise took extra oil in preparation to meet the bridegroom , they demonstrated that they were prudent. They thought ahead and prepared accordingly.
These are the believers "not slothful in zeal" but "fervent in spirit" in "serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11 ESV). The lamp they hold represents the glory of the Spirit of God reflected in their lives as the "children of light" who shine as "lights in the world" (Eph. 5:8; Php. 2:15). In Rev. 1, Christ explains the significance of the seven golden lampstands He shows to the Apostle John (vv. 10-13) in a vision on the island of Patmos: "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (v. 20 ESV).
These lampstands, originally ordained for the tabernacle service and later the temple, were to be regularly supplied with "pure olive oil" of the finest quality "to cause the lamps to burn continually" (Lev. 24:1-4; Ex. 27:20-21; 2 Chron. 13:11). Since the "pure olive oil" symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the burning lamps primarily stand for the fire of the Spirit which must burn perpetually.
Now, how do we keep the Spirit’s fire burning in our hearts? It’s by "praying without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). This is how we ensure that we "do not put out the Spirit’s fire" (v. 19 NIV) but "fan it into flames" (2 Tim. 1:6 God’s Word, GW).
Here, then, you have an imponderably compelling reason to "pray all the time and never give up" (Luke 18:1 GW). This is not a prayer for temporal blessings meant to meet your present needs; this is a prayer that bears on your eternal destiny. If your lamp does not go out, you will meet the Bridegroom and attend His marriage supper!
And there’s no other time. You must pray NOW and ALWAYS! The moment you neglect prayer is when you gamble away your future crown. Rev. 3:11 tells us: "Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast to that which you have, so that no one may take your crown" (MKJV).
Prayer is the believer’s "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17-18), and the devil would gladly take away this formidable weapon from you. He will lull you to sleep at night when you wish to wake up and pray; he will make prayer seem the hardest drudgery under the sun and discourage you from attending the prayer meeting. But don’t give in! Resist him on this front too (Jam. 4:7). First, ask the Lord Jesus, who strengthens us to do all things (Php. 4:13; John 15:5), to help you reinvigorate your prayer life. Then show personal commitment to the cause: Make attendance at the prayer meeting part of your weekly schedule; set time aside for ‘family devotion’ or prayer. Set an alarm if you find it difficult to wake up in the night to pray; ask a prayerful brother to wake you up by phone (literally a wake-up call!) any time he wakes up to pray. Then discipline yourself to stay awake. It will work for you. And your lamp will burn continually!
In addition to prayer, one other way we keep the fire of the Spirit burning is to devote ourselves to the study of God’s word and to its truths diligently and persistently (1 Tim. 4:13-16). We must always set our minds firmly on the future–the coming of our Lord at a time we don’t expect–and not be carried away by the joys and worries of the present, but "Watch … and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:34-36; see also 2 Pet. 3:11-13).
Such was the attitude of the five wise virgins. They had forethought and took extra oil with them. They prepared beforehand. Will you do so today?
The Foolish lived for the Moment
By their actions and inactions, the five foolish virgins clearly showed that they were imprudent. They lacked forethought. They had oil in their lamps now, and that was enough! They lived for the moment.
These are the believers who focus on the present and follow God with no thoughts of the future. They are simply content with what they can gain now and don’t "press toward the mark [or goal] for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus "which is the attainment of the resurrection from the dead and transformation into the likeness of the glorious body of Christ at His return (Php. 3:12-14, 20-21). Instead, "their belly is their god" with their minds set on earthly things (vv. 18-19; cp Rom. 16:18).
Like the church in Laodicea, such Christians are spiritually complacent, as they use material wellbeing as their measure of success. But listen to the reprimanding words Christ had for them:
"… thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; [but thou] knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
"I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:17-19).
As believers, we are to "grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). Hence the Apostle says in Philippians 3:13: "My brothers, I do not count myself to have taken possession [of the resurrection and the glories of it], but one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before" (MKJV).
Beloved, you have not been called to set your minds on the present but on things eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18; 1 Cor.2:9; Col. 3:1). So then, you are not to pray just for the material things you need in this present life (which God promises to provide, Php. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:7; Heb. 13:5), but more importantly because you are keeping the fire alive for your future resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17-21; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).
In His admonitions to stay alert to His coming whenever that time will be, Christ warns us not to be obsessed with even good social activities at the expense of watching out for His coming because of their comparative unimportance. One such social activity is ironically marriage. Christ warns us, drawing our attention to "the days of Noah":
"But as the days of Noah were, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man.
"For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark.
"And they did not know until the flood came and took them all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37-39).
Here, the Lord Jesus does not suggest that marriage is bad. In fact, He never condemned marriage but rather divorce, insisting that when God planned marriage for man by making them male and female, divorce was not part of the original plan (Matt. 19:4-8). Elsewhere in scripture, marriage is touted as good and a favour from God (Prov. 18:22).
However, Christ says marriage, like all other temporal human pursuits, can be harmful to one’s spiritual wellbeing if one becomes so wrapped up in it to the neglect of one’s spiritual development.
Isn’t it common knowledge that some people attend church solely to attract the attention of the person they seek for marriage? Once such people succeed in getting married to their darlings, the sad truth is that, many either leave the church or slow down their participation in church activities altogether. After all, what is the incentive for participating now that the quarry has been won?
Surely, some marriage that doesn’t contribute to spiritual growth, and we must be careful how we handle marriage vis-a-vis our spiritual life in Christ. Notice what the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 7:29: "But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none".
The call is for believing couples to devote themselves regularly to fasting and prayer and thereafter come together again to fulfill the conjugal obligation (v. 5). The point is to achieve a proper balance between one’s spiritual and physical needs, but more of the former as we encounter "distress" with the fast approach of the day of His return (v. 26; cp Luke 21:25).
And it’s moderation not only in marriage but also in all areas of earthly life, in that "those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:30-31 ESV).
So then, don’t be enamoured with this life; behave as a stranger in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Always live in expectancy of the Lord’s coming and of the Kingdom of God.
Slumber, don’t Sleep!
A person who lives in constant expectancy of his master’s unannounced return must not lie down to "sleep", though he may "slumber". The parable says while the bridegroom delayed in coming, all the ten virgins "slumbered and slept" (Matt. 25:5). The states of rest and inactivity were not the same. The wise obviously belonged to the first state; that is, they nodded their heads in drowsiness. But the foolish lay down and slept!
Christ warns us in Mark 13:
"Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
"For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
"Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
"Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (vv.33-37).
So nod, but don’t sleep! The last days leading up to the imminent return of Jesus will witness a lull in the activities of the church, especially in the field of evangelism because of the rise of the antichrist at this time (Matt. 24:14-16). But still the faithful must remain spiritually alert, even as they flee from the persecution of the antichrist (Matt. 10:23; Rev. 13:7).
But woe betides the believer who relaxes in prayer and other spiritual activities. He will run out of the oil of the Holy Spirit, with which we have been "sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30), for ascension. Alas! He will miss the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, and Christ will roar at him, "I do not know you"!
Christ only knows those who have His Spirit and keep it aflame till His return (Rom. 8:9, 11). So prepare now. Christ will disown you at His return if you do not behave as a virgin who knows Him now. He must be your "first love" by doing the "first works" you did when you first came to Him, or He will remove His lampstand from your life and plunge you into darkness (Rev. 2:4-5).
Stay Prepared for the "Midnight Cry"
Now is the hour of preparation (Amos 4:12). This is not the time to focus on materialism, the way of a world that lies under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). Instead, give yourself to holiness, prayer and fasting and the continual study of the Word, and your lamp will be filled to the full with extra oil for the unknown hour when the cry is heard, "The bridegroom cometh"!
The "midnight cry" is the seventh trumpet-blast at which Christ will take over all nations, the dead saints will resurrect from the dead, and the living saints are changed and caught up to meet the Lord in the air (Rev. 11:15; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). But it will be sounded at an hour we do not expect, so far as "the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2).
Like the coming of the bridegroom to fetch his bride at night, the Lord Jesus Christ will return at a time of total, universal blackout resembling the darkness of night. This is because " the sun [shall] be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven" (Matt. 24:29-30; also Rev. 6:12-17; Isai. 34:4; Joel 2:30-31).
That’s why it’s said that the mass ascension of living saints (the so-called Rapture) will occur at "night": "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Luke 17:34-36).
The Lord will not randomly discriminate against people and make His choice on a whim! He will take away only those believers who behaved like the five wise virgins who took extra oil with them. These, having received the Spirit, kept it burning in their souls till their resurrection and the ascension by the Spirit of God dwelling in them (Acts 2:17-21; Rom. 8:11).
You cannot afford to be left behind–shut out from God’s heavenly Presence where there is "fullness of joy" and no pain, no hunger, no tears, and no death (Rev 7:15-17, 21:3-5). Don’t assume all is well. Be ready with your extra oil now, even as you go about your daily life, schooling, getting married, raising kids, doing business, etc. Always keep your eternal future in mind; don’t live only for the moment.
"According to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13). Amen!