Watch and Be Ready For the Coming of the Lord

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson Five: The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 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.” 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. Later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.” But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matt. 25:1-13)

Several times the Lord Jesus gave parables concerning the kingdom of heaven, indicating by the stories certain conditions, activities or principles that pertain to the kingdom, the reign of God over men. These parables were often prophetic in nature, forecasting future things of the kingdom. Here Jesus uses ten virgins in a marriage procession to illustrate a fundamental truth about His coming. The parable begins with “then,” which refers to the time of Jesus’ return, the topic already under discussion. The pivotal event of the parable is the coming of the bridegroom (v. 6).

To understand this parable we must know some truths regarding the Jewish marriage customs. Firstly, the future bride and groom became betrothed (engaged), which agreement for the future marriage was sealed with a gift from the groom to the bride. Then, the bride remained at her house for a period of time preparing for the future wedding. That preparation included the making of her wedding garment and her heart preparation to leave her family and begin a new life as a wife. The marriage ceremony itself took place at the house of the groom’s father. The groom would often surprise the bride by coming at night at an unknown time to bring the bride to the house of the groom’s father. For this reason, lamps had to be ready for the procession back to the father’s house. The bride was accompanied by female companions on this procession. Once they arrived at the house, then the marriage ceremony would take place with just a few invited guests. Seven days of celebration followed the ceremony and then a marriage feast occurred at another place where numerous guests were invited (like in John 2). The New Testament uses only one Greek word for both the wedding itself and the later marriage feast, which challenges the Bible reader to use carefulness in distinguishing the two matters (the word is gamos).

The overall theme of the parable concerns the need of the individual believer to be spiritually prepared for the coming of the Lord. If we see this one consistent theme, then interpretation becomes easier. To “overcome,” or be victorious spiritually, is needed in order for the believer to be positively rewarded by the Lord at His return. All rewards are an individual matter, based upon the individual believer’s works (Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; all the positive rewards to the believers in the seven churches in Rev. 2 and 3 are to “he who overcomes”).

The prudent and the foolish virgins

The ten virgins represent believers in the church who fall into two classes. The bride (a single corporate entity) is not specifically mentioned because Jesus is using the parable to teach on the individual believer’s responsibility to be prepared, The ten virgins, close companions of the bride, are used to represent believers in the church who may or may not be positively rewarded. The figure of a virgin is used in the New Testament as a believer betrothed to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2). A chaste virgin is never used as a figure for an unbeliever. As the bride is given a gift to seal the betrothal, so the believer is given the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).

Matt. 25:1 tells us that all of the virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. This means that all believers know that they are on a spiritual journey to leave this world and meet Jesus, who is coming again. The virgins are broken down into two categories: the prudent and the foolish (v. 2). All ten virgins (vs. 7-8) have lamps which are lit, which means that their spirits have been born again by the Holy Spirit, who is now the oil within them (Pr. 20:27; Jn. 3:6-7; 1 Cor. 6:19). Oil in the Scriptures speaks of the Spirit of God (Zech. 4). Besides the lamps, the virgins in the marriage procession were also to carry a flask of oil to refill their lamps when the oil was running out and the flame diminished. The extra oil in the flask marks the difference between the prudent and the foolish virgins. The prudent virgins with the extra oil were prepared for the procession to the wedding, and thus gained entrance to the wedding.

The Jewish bride of the first century awaited the sudden coming of her bridegroom and used that time to prepare herself as his bride. In the same way, while Jesus is away from this earth we believers are to be preparing for His return! Although we have been justified and born again, there is the great need for us to be growing in sanctification or developing in the character of Christ (Rom. 6:19-22; Gal. 4:19; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:1-7; 5:23; Tit. 2:11-14; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; 2 Pet. 1:5-8). Matt. 25:9 indicates that the extra oil is gained at a price. The prudent virgins were willing to pay the price for the extra oil. In the same way, for us to be sanctified in our living we must pay a price by doing things such as seeking after God and living by faith (Heb. 11:6), spending time in His word (Jn. 17:17); cleansing ourselves from defilement (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Jn. 1:9), putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13); denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus in obedience (Lk. 9:23), and being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). To have the extra oil signifies gaining, or experiencing, the Holy Spirit in the actual living of the believer.

There have been many long centuries of waiting for the Lord and His coming seems delayed (v. 5). But suddenly the cry will come that He is here. It is for this that we must be ready. The foolish virgins were not ready for the procession, and when the groom came it was too late for them to prepare! The prudent virgins had been preparing all along, day by day paying a price to keep their flasks filled with oil. Because the foolish ones were not ready, they could not go into the wedding and the door was shut! What does this mean?

The bride of Revelation 19 and her preparation

This entry into the “wedding feast” here (v. 10) would be the wedding ceremony at the house of the groom’s father. To understand this we must look at some passages in the book of Revelation.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he *said to me, "Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are true words of God." Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he *said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Rev. 19:7-15)

In the passage above we see the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, and we see that the bride has made herself ready. Her bridal garment is composed of the righteous acts of the saints, not the imputed righteousness of God given to us by initial faith. To be part of the bride in this marriage ceremony requires a life of righteous doings on the part of individual saints. This verse matches exactly the picture of the virgins associated with the bride. While the groom is away, the bride must prepare her wedding garment. So while Jesus is away, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that righteousness is lived out in our lives. The Scripture shows that after the wedding the Lord Jesus leads His armies (the overcoming saints in fine linen) in heaven to fight against the rebellious nations and the Antichrist at the end of the age. “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army” (Rev. 19:19).

Rev. 17:14 confirms that the overcoming believers are those who are with the Lord in this final battle:

"These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful." (Rev. 17:14)

Here the saints are identified as those who are “called and chosen and faithful.” The calling and choosing here is not the election and calling to eternal salvation (Rom. 8:30). Rather, it is the call to the believer to overcome for reward. In the matter of eternal salvation all those who are elected are also called. But as respects reward, not all who are called are chosen, or selected, by the Lord to receive a positive reward. Matt. 22:1-14 contains the parable concerning the wedding feast given by the king for his son (and this may speak of the wedding feast on earth, at the onset of the millennium, which follows the wedding ceremony and dinner at the house of the groom’s father in heaven in Rev. 19). In that parable we again see that a proper garment is needed to participate in the feast. When the king sees someone there without the proper garment, he commands that this person be removed from the feast and states: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (v. 14). In this case (unlike the calling to salvation in Rom. 8), all those called are not necessarily chosen, or approved, for participation in the feast, signifying the reward associated with the coming 1,000 year Kingdom age (more about this shortly). What is needed for this reward is our actions, our cooperation. That is why in Rev. 17:14 it notes that those who are included in the bride and the wedding at that time (Rev. 19:7-9), are also described as “called and chosen and faithful.” To be faithful is to follow the Lord in obedience, to do the righteous things He wants us to do. It is a matter of our choice and our cooperation. It is not automatic. We can live for ourselves, even as believers, or we can deny what we want and live unto God and His will. There is a daily battle between the “flesh” (the old life within) and the “Spirit” (the new life within). We must fight this battle in faith to overcome. Those who are living unto God are those prudent virgins who are preparing their garments now to be ready for His coming so that they can be rewarded to be part of the bride in that day.

Now, I am sure that many of you are wondering how “the bride” of the Lamb could possibly be anything less than the whole church. Firstly, we must understand that the term “bride,” as used for our relationship to Christ, is a figure of speech. A figure of speech is used to create an impression and does not strictly follow the literal meaning of the word or words used. Thus, a figure of speech is not bound by all of the exact details of the literal words. The overcoming bride will not be a real female wearing a veil and walking down an aisle on the day of the “wedding.” In fact, the gown she wears is not literally of real fine linen – it is one consisting of the “righteous acts of the saints!” Therefore, we cannot press the figure of the bride so as to be governed by literal aspects of a real bride, such as having to be one person who cannot be divided and must be altogether at one place at one time. The bride in Rev. 19 is not defined as all the members of the body of Christ, but the bride here is defined as those who have made themselves ready through the righteous acts of their living. This definition cannot possibly fit every believer, as the New Testament records believers as including those who are living in sin and carnality (some examples: Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 3:1-4; 5:1-5, 9-11; 6:6-8; 11:28-31; 15:34; 1 Tim. 1:19; 4:1-3; 5:14-15; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:10; 1 Jn. 5:16; Rev. 2 and 3 – failures among the seven churches).

The picture of a bride and a marriage does present at least one important truth. On the day of the wedding the bride and the groom are brought into an experience of intimate union that they had not known with each other before. The fullness of the marriage union only happens after the stage of betrothal. We are now only betrothed to Christ, so the fullness of union is yet future (2 Cor. 11:2).[1] We see this fullness of union with Christ and His church in Eph. 5:25-32 where the great mystery is that these two become one. Also, in Eph. 5 we see that Christ sanctifies the church in experience in order that He might “present” her to Himself as a spotless bride. The word “might’ is here to indicate the verb for “present” is in the subjunctive mood. This mood indicates some uncertainty about the action. The sanctification in this passage is not “positional,” that is, something already accomplished by Christ’s actions alone on the cross (Heb. 10:14). The sanctification (our being set apart to God) here is something practical and in our experience “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26b). This means that as Christ speaks to us and we obey Him, then we are being more and more sanctified unto Him. When a stage of maturity is reached then we corporately are spiritually prepared to be “presented” (as a bride) unto Christ, being glorious, “having no spot or wrinkle...holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). Such sanctification is a process which requires our cooperation. Just as Esther prepared herself through a process of beautification before being presented to King Ahasuerus (Est. 2:12-16), so now those in the church must prepare themselves. But, such a process does not automatically happen. It requires the cooperation of the individual believer (notice the conditionality also in Col. 1:22-23).

Recompense and separation of believers

Although the church is spiritually a unity, there are definite possibilities of separation among the believers. For example, we who are alive now are practically separated from those believers in the church who have now passed on, or who have not even been born. Those who are excommunicated from an assembly are separated from the rest (1 Cor. 5). We are all on the same level by grace for eternal salvation. However, another great principle of “reward (recompense) according to works” will prove to be a separating factor among believers when Christ returns.

According to the grace principle, our works are not counted and all of us will be in eternity with God because of grace. But according to the “reward” principle Christ’s return will bring about a separation among God’s people for the period of the millennial kingdom where Christ openly rules. There are examples of such separation among God’s people in the Bible. A significant example concerns the Exodus generation of the Israelites. They were all the people of God, but there came a point when there was a separation among them because of their own actions. In Num. 13 and 14 we see where the whole nation was to go into the good land, but most of them rebelled against the Lord’s command to go in. The result was that all of those who refused received a penalty from God for their disobedience. God spoke concerning those who disobeyed - “have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice” - that their corpses would fall in the wilderness and they would not come into the good land (Num. 14:22-23; 29). On the other hand, because Joshua and Caleb had been faithful, they were allowed to enter the land (Num. 32:11-12). So we see this clear separation among God’s people based upon their cooperation with God.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt. 16:27). He will decide which believers are qualified for inclusion in the bride in Rev. 17:7-9. That bride will be the bride at that time, receiving a marvelous reward of participating in the wedding feast and enjoying a special fullness of union with Christ, as well as going with Him to fight against the Antichrist. There is no doubt that these overcomers will also reign with Christ in His millennial kingdom. However, that bride (that company of overcomers) will not be equal to the “wife” for eternity. After God’s period of special reward is over, at the end of 1,000 years, then eternity will begin. The New Jerusalem in eternity will include all of the redeemed . All believers in Christ are with God in eternity because of the gift of eternal salvation by grace, not of works (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9). The Scripture shows us the New Jerusalem as the bride after the 1,000 years, where there is a transition from the bride of Rev. 19 to “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9). This final bride is pictured as one who is made ready for that point in time, and God is able to finish this preparation.

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2)

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." (Rev. 21:9)

It is interesting to note that the Scripture says of the bride in Rev. 19: “His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7b). The verb used there is in the active voice, indicating that the bride is the one active in the process of her preparation (she is pursuing sanctification to be ready). In distinction from this is the bride in Rev. 21, where the Scripture says that the bride there is “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2b). The voice of the verb in this verse is passive, emphasizing God’s acting in the preparation of this final bride.

If we see that the “reward” (recompense) principle applies to us, as well as grace principle, then we can see that there is a separation among believers when Christ comes back to recompense us. Indeed, that is what the whole parable of the ten virgins is telling us. Those who are prudent, being faithful to prepare, are ready to go into the wedding feast and God allows it. But, those who have not prepared, the foolish virgins, will be excluded – “the door was shut” (Matt. 25:10). These foolish virgins wanted the groom to give them entry, but he declares unto them, “I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12). To know here means to know intimately. The foolish ones are those believers who have not allowed the Lord to develop a close fellowship with them, where they listen to His voice and learn from Him.

The Lord Jesus concluded the parable with a word of admonition based upon the spiritual truth presented in the parable: "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). His point is that there is the need for constant preparedness, like that of the five prudent virgins, in order to be ready for the imminent coming of the Lord at an unknown hour. I see this as a word given to the church and applying to all believers over the course of time since the Lord has left the earth. While He is away, even while He seems to be delaying His return (v. 5), there is the constant need to be ready! This is a word of warning not strictly related to rapture and escape from the coming time of tribulation (like in Matt. 24), but a warning related to being in the wedding feast and part of the bride of Rev. 19:7-9. This company of overcomers will consist of those believers throughout the ages who have faithfully prepared in the manner shown by the wise virgins.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] This fullness of union with Christ is probably also pictured in Scripture as a special portion of the enjoyment of “eternal life” (Jn. 17:3) promised to the overcomers during the millennium (Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30; Rom. 2:6-7).