Prior to telling this parable Jesus was discussing his eventual return. We refer to this as the second coming of Christ. It was important that the disciples began to understand that His death on the cross would not be the end. This was a reality that they would not begin to grasp until He would appear to them after His resurrection.
Jesus offered a a nugget of truth about His return before He moved into the parables He had chosen to tell. It is important that we do not miss this.
This conversation began when the disciples approached Him and asked, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In response to that question Jesus says that He does not know when this will happen. Not even the angels are wise to such information. The only one that knows is the Father.
This says to us that our wait could be another ten years, or it could be another two thousand years. This is important because Jesus uses this information to lead into a parable where a group of women are waiting for the return of a bridegroom with an unspecified time of return.
Jesus also told a short story about a servant that was caught off guard. A servant was put in charge of his master’s household. Then a comparison is drawn between the consequences for a faithful servant and an unfaithful servant. The unfaithful servant is said to have done evil things and kept vile company, because he believed his master would not return for a long time. Jesus explains that the master will return on a day he is not expected and at an unknown hour.
Jesus then begins telling the following story.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent [or wise]. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
– Matthew 25:1-13 (NASB)
Two Kinds of People
As with all other parables, there is a spiritual correlation to this story that goes deeper than the simple characters that Jesus portrays here. As Jesus is responding to a question that inquired about his return, it is safe to say that Jesus’s return is the logical correlation for the parable above.
Jesus makes the point that there will only be two types of people present upon His return. Those that are ready, and those that are not. Those that are ready are said to be prudent, or wise, while those that are not ready are called fools.
The Difference Between the Two Kinds of People
It is important to note that these two groups of people are not distinguished by one believing the bridegroom would return and one would not. Both groups of people went out to wait for the bridegroom. They both believed he would be coming back.
This is an important detail to note. This means we are not distinguishing between people in the church and people not in the church. We are not distinguishing between believers and unbelievers. We are distinguishing between people that possess the knowledge and believe that Jesus is coming back. We are distinguishing between people that show up for church week after week and they profess to be a Christian.
The distinguishing characteristic in the parable Jesus tells, has to do with how much value they assigned to the moment the bridegroom would return. To the group Jesus called wise, the moment of the bridegroom’s return was of the utmost importance. It was of such great importance, they brought along extra lamp oil just in case it was needed.
Keep in mind that these ladies did not know when the bridegroom would return. If he were to return at night, the ladies would need enough lamp oil to burn to follow him wherever he was going.
To the group Jesus called foolish, this was a moment that seemed to be inconsequential. While they did believe he would return, they seemed to hope it would be at a time that would be convenient for them. They did not have any type of contingency plans in place. If they were to accompany the bridegroom, he would have to show up in the daylight hours.
Many people treat their relationship with God in the same manner. For those that choose to believe and practice the Christian faith, we believe that we will encounter Christ again. The bible tells us that time on the Earth will come to a close at God’s appointed time; and when that day comes, Jesus will return to claim his church. Either our lives will end prior to the second coming of Christ or we will be here on that day. Either way, we will need to be ready. How we prepare for that day matters.
If we back up to the story just before Jesus began this parable we see a servant that epitomizes some people in their spiritual journey. While we wait for the return of Christ some will live irresponsibly. They will see Jesus coming as a far off event and will not prioritize their life around the reality that He is coming again. They will assume, day after day, that they have one more day.
These people will drift through life doing nothing. They may come to church, but they will not get involved. They will not assume responsibility for people or ministry. They will be self-serving instead of looking to the needs of others. They will use God’s delay in sending His son, as an excuse and not as motivation, to build the Kingdom of God.
For these folks, the inevitable outcome is to be caught of guard. Their life will be cut shorter than they expected and they will run out of time to do the things they should have been doing.
Jesus is coming again. How we prepare for the moment we will meet Him in the judgement matters.
We can choose to put forward a minimal effort; only striving for holiness, working to grow the Kingdom of God, or working to meet the needs of others when it is convenient, or we can give high priority to how we live. Striving each day as if it might be our last; and making the best use of what time God gives us.
Many people think that just because you make a decision to “accept Christ into your heart,” and ”repent of your sins,” that you are guaranteed a place in heaven. There are many verses of Scripture that contradict this and this parable and the one that follows it are just two examples.
If we do not live day by day with a reverent fear that we will one day stand before God at the end of our lives, we will foolishly waste the gift of new life that was given to us when we first believed and repented. What we find is that complacency leads to apathy; and apathy leads to apostasy. When we just skate by with minimal effort, the faith that led us to repentance, dies a slow death.
The evidence of this is noticed in how we choose to live and what we choose as our priorities.