The characters of the parable are the "Bridegroom," also referred to as "Lord," who is Jesus Christ Himself, and, of course, "the ten virgins," representing those called of God (Matthew 22:14; Ephesians 4:1-6; I Peter 1:15; Revelation 17:14). The Bride is not mentioned because she represents the entire church, and the church is not presented here in its entirety. By implication, the Bride is represented in this parable more personally in its individual members (Psalm 45:14). But since the wedding feast could not be held without the Bride, and since five virgins miss the feast, all ten virgins cannot make up the Bride. These ten virgins, then, represent those individuals called into the church at the end time. "The daughters of Judah" are treated similarly in the Old Testament (Lamentations 2:13).
When Jesus gave this parable, the mystery of the church was not yet fully known (Ephesians 3:3-5). In it, the called are seen individually as "virgins" expecting the Bridegroom to come. In this way, the parable illustrates "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 20:16; 22:14). Interestingly, the apostle Paul refers to the church at Corinth in its virgin character in II Corinthians 11:2, "I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Virgin character refers to the whole church, but virgins (plural) describes individual members of the body. Jesus makes this parable very personal to highlight the need for each individual's spiritual preparedness.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Ten Virgins (Part One)
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins could have depicted the original "sleeper cells," those groups that aid the enemy by their lethargy and inactivity. A sleeper cell is defined as a group of terrorists called "sleeper agents" that belong to a large terrorist organization. The cell "sleeps" or lies dormant, not acting until told to do so. Before the greater church of God was scattered, sleeper cells weighed it down.
Closely allied to sleeper cells are passive sponsors of terrorism. Daniel Byman, in his October 6, 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Seminar address, "Passive Sponsorship of Terrorism," notes, "A regime is guilty of passive sponsorship if it knowingly allows a terrorist group to raise money, enjoy a sanctuary, recruit, or otherwise flourish but does not directly aid the group itself." Byman points out that not only are Iran and Syria on the list of "tacit" supporters of terrorism, but the Saudis have turned a blind eye to al Qaida, Pakistan has offered safe haven to the Taliban, and even certain groups in the United States offered sanctuary and economic and weapons support to the Irish Republican Army.
The greater church of God has been infiltrated with sleeper cells and passive sponsors of terrorism. After our previous fellowship was destroyed by neglect, the cells became active, endorsing the antinomian doctrine of eternal security. This false doctrine sabotages the Christian by making him believe that his salvation is eternally assured, causing him to neglect the very necessary works that strengthen his relationship with God and help him to overcome his sins and grow in character.
Interestingly, the term "sabotage" has the connotation of slowing something down. Communist Walker C. Smith, in his treatise on Sabotage, cites the following etymology:
A striking French weaver cast his woden [sic] shoe—called a sabot—into the delicate mechanism of the loom upon leaving the mill. The confusion that resulted, acting to the workers' benefit, brought to the front a line of tactics that took the name of SABOTAGE. Slow work is also said to be at the basis of the word, the idea being that wooden shoes are clumsy and so prevent quick action on the part of the workers.
Some who would not even consider bringing a plastic explosive into the workplace think nothing of spending thirty extra minutes around the water cooler or of idling away their time viewing questionable material on the company computer. Are we built-in liabilities—or worse, actual saboteurs—to our employers by just showing up to work?
As we move in our conversion process beyond justification, we dare not slumber, slow down, or do our work with slackness. The eternal security doctrine has been around since the Garden of Eden, but Jesus warns in Matthew 5:19:
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Emphasis ours.)
Those who teach that God's law has been done away are spiritual murderers, attempting to destroy for eternity those who have God's Holy Spirit. We have been called to overcome and grow, going through trials and tests, conforming to the image of Christ, meeting the requirements to be members of God's Family to the extent that we discipline ourselves, subduing our carnal natures, and taking on God's characteristics.
David F. Maas
Could You Be a Spiritual Terrorist?
To us living in the end time, the major point of His instruction is not that the unwise virgins went to sleep, since the wise also went to sleep, but that the unwise virgins frittered away their time. Both sets of virgins had the same opportunities to use their time wisely. The unwise, however, so severely blunted their transformation that their redemption became impossible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Our Uniqueness and Time
Our responsibility today is not just mental preparation, as in the case of a diligent athlete. Nor is it physical preparation, as in David's case. All the same, our responsibility is much like David's in that we are gatherers. Our duty is to gather: to gather faith, patience, wisdom; to gather God's Holy Spirit. How much do we need? Well, Christ tells us that a "night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). In His Parable of the Ten Virgins, He says that the Bridegroom came at midnight (Matthew 25:6). Midnight is well into the night. The wise virgins were those who had enough oil - representing God's Spirit - to last the night. Indeed, we ought to gather God's Spirit like David gathered bronze, "in abundance beyond measure."
On Your Marks . . . Get Set . . . Go!
A cry awakens them all at midnight, but it leaves them no time for preparation—it announces the Bridegroom's presence and commands them to meet Him. At that point, there is no opportunity to get things into shape quickly—to grow hurriedly, overcome, develop a relationship with the Father and the Son, and take on their character image. The period of preparation has ended; the time that has been prepared for has come. The Bridegroom tells those who had not made advance spiritual preparations, "I do not know you." They lose out on the opportunity that God had given to them because they would not watch themselves—not make the necessary preparations.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
Because of its abundance of well-known symbols, the Parable of the Ten Virgins is perhaps the easiest to understand in a prophetic light. The Bridegroom, of course, is Christ. Virgins are often symbols of churches or individual Christians, most likely the latter in this case. Lamps are vessels that contain oil, a common symbol of God's Spirit, thus they represent our minds, which, when filled with the Holy Spirit, provide illumination for the path to the Kingdom of God (I Corinthians 2:10-16). The wedding refers to the marriage of the Lamb to the church (Revelation 19:7).
Jesus flatly states that this parable deals with conditions just before His second coming (verse 13). It does not take much interpretation, then, to understand what will happen - maybe has happened in part. All of God's people will go to sleep spiritually, but only half of them have enough spiritual strength to prepare for Christ's return. When He does return, our Savior shuts the door on the other half, proclaiming that He has no relationship with them (compare Revelation 3:7, 20). The warning to us is to draw close to God now because we do not know when Christ will come back.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
The Parable of the Ten Virgins pictures the church waiting for the Bridegroom's return. Because of an unexpectedly long delay, He finds half the virgins unprepared when He finally arrives.
In weddings of that time, the bridegroom traditionally led a procession of bridesmaids from where they waited to his home. Since the procession almost invariably took place at night, each bridesmaid was expected to supply her own torch or lamp. If the bridegroom came later than expected, the bridesmaid needed to be prepared with extra torches or oil for her lamp.
The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins in the parable is not that one group did not have oil, but that one group did not have enough for the unexpectedly long delay. When the cry went out, their lamps were still burning, but they were sputtering and going out. Oil, of course, represents God's Holy Spirit. The wise virgins, like the faithful and wise servant of Matthew 24:45-51, are prepared. They make sure that they remain in contact with the dispenser of oil, as is implied when they say to the foolish virgins, "No, . . . go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves" (verse 9). The wise had been in recent contact with the dispenser of oil, whereas the others apparently had dallied around. Going frequently to the dispenser, the wise, when the bridegroom arrived, had an adequate supply to trim their lamps and go into the marriage supper. The lesson is preparedness through vision and foresight.
Because it is an internal state, preparedness cannot be transferred. That is evident in the reaction of the virgins. It is a matter of the heart, an intangible that accrues by spending long periods of time under many circumstances with the Dispenser of the Holy Spirit. What cannot be transferred to those who are unprepared are matters of attitude, character, skill, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. They are personal attributes that are built and honed over months and years.
When one needs a skill immediately, how much time does it take to learn it? If a man suddenly needed the skill to repair an automobile, and he had never done any work on one, he may as well have no hands at all! It works the same way with spiritual attributes. Preparing for eventualities is the lesson of this parable. The wise virgins prepared for the eventuality that it might take longer for the bridegroom to come—they showed foresight and vision, and they entered the wedding feast. The others did not.
The oil cannot be borrowed either. In no way can it be passed from one person to another. We cannot borrow character or a relationship with God. The parable teaches us that opportunity comes, opportunity knocks, and then opportunity leaves. The foolish failed to face the possibility that the bridegroom would come later than expected, and when they were awakened, they had no time to fetch any oil and fill their lamps.
No one can deliver his brother. Each person determines his own destiny. No matter how close we are, even if we are one in flesh as in marriage, a husband cannot deliver his wife, and a wife cannot deliver her husband. Nor can we deliver our children. Everyone stands on his own in his relationship with God. God makes this clear in Ezekiel 14:14: "'Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord God." Though it is a hard lesson, it should motivate us to discipline ourselves, to exercise self-control, to be alert, and to give our attention to our spiritual priorities. Thus, each person determines his own destiny.
Equating the foolish virgins with their modern counterparts, the Laodiceans, their faith is perfunctory. Their church membership is routine, merely going through the motions. They have enough faith that they at least show up for church services. They have beliefs and character and motivation—but not enough!
The Bridegroom's refusal to admit the five foolish virgins (verse 12) must not be construed as a callous rejection of their lifelong desire to enter the Kingdom. Far from callous, Christ's rejection is entirely justified because these people never make preparations for their marriage to Him. In the analogy, though they realize they have met their future mate and admire Him, they never develop the relationship. In a sense, they have already rejected Him. Thus, an additional lesson in this parable is that our relationship with God must be worked on continually.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Knowing that human nature loses heart over time without the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus understood that His church would need encouragement to be watchful while awaiting His second coming. For this reason, He gave the Parable of the Ten Virgins to some of the twelve disciples just days before His brutal crucifixion. The parable pictures ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom's return. However, half of the virgins are unprepared because they lose heart in the face of their uncertainty, and as a result, they do not prepare and persevere to the end.
Jesus gives ample warning in His teaching concerning the last days and the need for spiritual preparation for them. But He also realizes that His church would need spiritual focus while waiting for His return. Therefore, He warns that lack of adequate preparation for His coming can be eternally devastating. Jesus makes the purpose of this parable clear in its last verse. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (verse 13).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Ten Virgins (Part One)
Matthew 25:1-4 shows all the virgins have the same beliefs, represented by the lamps they carry with them. The lamps represent the Word, the laws, and the statutes of God. Five of the virgins are foolish and five are wise, showing that the end-time church is composed of two types of members. The foolish have the Word of God but lack a sufficient level of His Holy Spirit, which opens the converted mind to understand and live God's way of life. The wise are actively using God's Spirit to enhance their understanding and have sufficient amounts of it to last them.
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 25:1:
2 Kings 4:31
Song of Solomon 5:1-10