The topic of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins crops up time and time again and is so often misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. In fact, so many debate the meaning of our Saviour’s words. So, I thought I would share some thoughts which I hope will be a blessing …
Please take a few moments now, if you will, to read the parable in Matthew 25:1-13
There is one aspect that stands out and can be known beyond any doubt, and that is this – the identity of the Bridegroom – it is JESUS CHRIST – and the parable describes His return.
One of the ways God describes or pictures Himself in the Old Testament is as the “husband” of Israel. (See Isaiah 54:4-6; 62:4-5 & Hosea 2:19)
In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the “Bridegroom” of the Church (see Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20 & John 3:27). And guess what? The Church is wonderfully described as the Bride of Christ! (Read Ephesians 5:25-32)
What then causes there to be a debate about the parable?
Some scholars believe it refers to the Lord’s return when the Church is caught up to meet Him in the air (the Rapture), whilst others believe it is His return at the end of the Tribulation period, when He comes to set up the Millennial Kingdom.
It is NOT the purpose of this article to try to answer that question. What IS important is that regardless of which return is being referred to here, the lessons that we learn from this parable are relevant in both cases.
There is much written about the first-century Jewish wedding, and can be sourced from various places (refer to my references below), suffice to say that the virgins who went out to meet the Bridegroom were expected to carry their own lamp. In addition, their lamps needed to be trimmed and ready for the Bridegroom’s return – individual responsibility.
What then is the overall and easily-identified thrust or message of this parable?
The very clear message that comes through in this parable is that no one knows the day nor the hour when Christ will return, and that His people must ALWAYS be ready!
Being ready means it is essential to prepare for that event – to be in a right relationship with Jesus, keeping our eyes fixed on Him at ALL times and eagerly awaiting His return! The fact that all 10 virgins were asleep when the call came “‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’”, implies that no matter what we are doing when Jesus returns, we must be ready! So, whether we are sleeping, working, relaxing, playing sport, having a meal …. We must ALWAYS be ready! There will not be time to “make things right” when that call comes, and this would certainly apply to the time when Christ comes for His Bride (the Church).
What is the fundamental requisite for being ready when Jesus comes?
There is ONE fundamental need and I put it to you like this …
“What have you done with Jesus?”
If we would are to be ready for Christ’s return, we must be born again through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…His death, burial and literal resurrection from the dead (John 3:16; 14:6; Romans 10:9 and 10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-10).
If you are totally committed to Jesus, there should be a definite desire for greater holiness, seeking to live a life well-pleasing to the Lord in all we do, say and think. In addition, there should be a consistent and eager expectation of His coming – this should be clear evident in our lives as we await His appearing. Titus 2:11-14 tells us clearly how our lives should be once we are saved: “For the [remarkable, undeserved] grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to reject ungodliness and worldly (immoral) desires, and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives [with a purpose that reflect spiritual maturity] in this present age, awaiting and confidently expecting the [fulfilment of our] blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Christ Jesus, who [willingly] gave Himself [to be crucified] on our behalf to redeem us and purchase our freedom from all wickedness, and to purify for Himself a chosen and very special people to be His own possession, who are enthusiastic for doing what is good.” (Amplified Bible)
A closer look at the 5 Wise and 5 Foolish Virgins
– brought additional oil and had adequate resources to wait the full time for the Groom
– apparently expected there might be a delay in the Groom’s arrival
– had insufficient oil – did not make adequate preparation
– were only concerned with the “external” appearance, for example – having lamps
– forgot the essence or essential element – so had insufficient oil
– outwardly similar to the wise but lacked the essential.
Put another way, the wise virgins were “prepared with the great essential, which the foolish lacked, namely, the Spirit, and spiritual fellowship with the Lord. A case then of “appearance” versus “substance” (wheat and tares look very similar and initial stages of growth are difficult to tell apart. It is only at the time of harvest that the true identity is revealed. As someone once said, “tares do not “magically” turn into wheat, nor wheat into tares! As much as one may resemble the other at any given time, in the end each reveals his true self” (see Matthew 13:24-30)
We need to remember that the relatively small amount of oil initially found within the foolish virgin’s lamps was only sufficient to give the impression of a spiritual life, but lacked true conversion and the power that sustains it! And that is why when the foolish virgins appealed to the Bridegroom as “Lord”, His chilling reply was: “… ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, I do not know you [we have no relationship].’” and they remained shut out. (Matthew 25:12 Amplified Bible)
I am sure by now you can see the similarity in response to people who appear religiously active … but who’s hearts do not belong to Jesus! How similar the Lord’s response to the five foolish virgins as it is to others who appear to be religiously active and doing works of the Lord in the 7th chapter of Matthew. They also appealed to Him using the phrase “Lord, Lord.” His response there is, “I never knew you” — revealing again that such as these have never been born of the His Spirit (Mat. 7:21-23).
The lamps of the foolish virgins may appear to be lit for a time, but like three of the four soils in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9), their lamps will eventually flicker and go out. In the end, their destiny is no different than the seed which fell by the wayside, the seed that fell on stony places, and the seed which fell among thorns.
While their lamps shine, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the foolish from the wise. Just as the three types of seed initially sprout forth in what appears to be vibrant life, but eventually are devoured, wilt, or choke.
Tony Garland lists a number of dangers of Religious Activities worth noting …
By doing this he highlights the difference between Relationship versus Religion
- Performance-based relationship with God.
- External adherence to rituals and certain behaviours
- Works which are motivated by pride, or even fear, but which are expected to mitigate their personal shortcomings.
- A belief that they deserve to go to heaven.
- Belief that they’re a “good person” and merit His acceptance, at least in comparison with others.
- Disdain for the Biblical requirement of being born again to see God’s Kingdom (John 3:3).
The “religious” / foolish virgins all have lamps: forms of faith, ecclesiastical confession and position, but lack the Spirit of Christ. They have no [continuing] lights, no evidences of love, no hymns of praise to welcome the Lord in His coming.
A relation-based interaction with God: born of God as His child
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
- Works motivated by gratefulness and love in response to the unmerited grace of God given to us.
- A belief that one does not deserve to go to heaven
- A confidence and sense of rest rightly placed in the finished work of Calvary and not on one’s own righteousness (Romans 10:3-4)
- As a result of His righteousness referred to above, we stand clothed in the very righteousness of God Himself (not our righteousness which is no righteousness at all!!) – (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- A willingness and readiness to speak about the time when we were born again of God from above (John 3:7 & 1 Peter 3:15)
- Trusting in the OIL, the HOLY SPIRIT, who brought about our new birth, who now directs our steps. And it is HE who causes our lamps to shine!!! (John 3:8 & Romans 8:11)
From our perspective, we may not be able to tell the difference between the wheat and the tares, but rest assured, God looks at the heart and He knows those who are His. Let us strive to walk the way of holiness and total commitment to our precious Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To make sure our lamps are trimmed and full and ready for our Bridegroom’s return.
“But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into His glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to Him who alone is God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are His before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.”
(Jude 20-24 NLT)
“Before the Wrath” -a film by Brent Miller Jr
“The Wise and Foolish Virgins” – Tony Garland.
“An Interpretation of Matthew 24-25” – Thomas Ice
“What is the meaning of the Parable of the Ten Virgins?” – from ‘Got Questions’