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, found in Matthew 25:1-13, 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).
1. Who are the Ten Virgins? Matthew 25:1.
Comment: 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.
2. What are the similarities between the two types of virgins? Matthew 25:1-5.
Comment: In the introduction, we see revealed important characteristics about the two groups that obviously describe two different types of attitudes. These traits make the two groups' approaches to the wedding celebration predictable, summarized by the contrasting behaviors of sincerity and superficiality. The two have some interesting similarities that cause them to appear the same outwardly.
Both groups were in the same place going to meet the bridegroom (verse 1). The spiritually unprepared Christian may sit right beside the spiritually prepared Christian in Sabbath services, similar to the state of the tares and wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). They both seem interested in the same things and seem to have the same character. Both may diligently give tithes and offerings and serve their brethren. It may only be in a crisis that the real differences show up, and then attendance may begin to wane, and their monetary support of the church may slow or even stop.
Both groups were carrying lamps (verse 1), so these vessels are not a sign of who had prepared. Similarly, a person carrying a Bible to church does not show that that person has prepared by study and prayer during the previous week to overcome sin and produce spiritual fruit. Neither does it show that the Holy Spirit exists within a person.
Both groups slumbered and slept (verse 5). Even the most dedicated and sincere saints may temporarily become spiritually lethargic. The fact that the Bridegroom delayed His coming is one of Jesus' many hints that His return may be much later than expected. From the perspective of the first-century church, Christ has delayed for almost 2,000 years! Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves to become lethargic about His eventual return (Habakkuk 2:3). The word "slumbered" is actually nod, a transient act, whereas "slept" should be sleeping, a continuous act. Thus, we see the progression of lethargy. First, the virgins nodded their heads as if napping, and later, they slept continuously and deeply. Initial weariness is the first step to further spiritual decay. It is vital to catch temporary apathy early to prevent permanent disillusionment.
The ten virgins' service and reverence to God is done perfunctorily. It is more of a habit than a sincere zeal, and this is seen in Christians' routine attendance at Sabbath services. They obey God almost mindlessly, developing it into a routine over time. Their lack of emotional maturity and forethought carries them through life in lightheaded bliss, and so they remain with the church, just filling a seat or attending only occasionally.
Those who follow the Lamb are called virgins (Revelation 14:4), symbolizing their spiritual purity, but it appears only half of the virgins are presented as the Bride to Christ. We have identified the ten virgins and analyzed the similarities of the two groups of five virgins. Next time, we will analyze their decisive differences.