Matthew 25:1 – Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Here we find a couple of key words. The first is ‘then’. Remember, chapter 25 is a continuation of the discussion of chapter 24. The disciples have asked Jesus three questions:
When shall these things be? (Referring to the actual timing of events). What will be the sign of your coming? (Referring to the signs that will indicate to the Jews that the end of the temple/Old Covenant are near). And finally, what are the signs of the end of the world? (Literally, the end of time).
Jesus has addressed the first two questions in chapter 24. So the phrase ‘then’ at the start of chapter 25 is significant. It means that what Jesus is about to say specifically pertains to the final question regarding the end of time.
This brings us to the next significant word in this verse, which is ‘will’. In other instances, Jesus said ‘the kingdom of heaven is like’. This indicated present tense; Jesus was referring to the current time.
Now he transitions to using the future tense: ‘the kingdom of heaven will be like’. Again, this points to a future phase of the kingdom of heaven, the one that will be in place at the end of time.
Jesus uses this parable to impart wisdom to us about the end of time. This parable made perfect sense to the Jews, because they were well acquainted with the marriage customs of that day. For our understanding, a quick review of these customs is helpful.
In that day, couples were betrothed long before the marriage. The betrothal was actually the true marriage contract, even though the marriage was not consummated at that time, and the woman continued to live in her father’s house until the time she was claimed by the groom.
This explains why Joseph was going to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant. Notice in the following verses she is ‘betrothed’ to him, but they are not living together and he must go through a legal process (divorce) to break off his ties with her.
Matthew 1:18-19 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Now, according to Jewish custom, when the time for the marriage celebration finally arrived, the bridegroom and his friends came, late at night, to the house of the bride. She was expecting/watching for his arrival with her bridesmaids. When the groom was spotted, the maidens would go out with their lamps in their hands to light up the way to the house with great ceremony and formality. They would accompany the bride to the wedding feast prepared by the groom. This feast was always held at the groom’s house.
The two main characters in this parable are both introduced in verse one. Who are they?
First, we have the bridegroom. This represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many times in the New Testament he is referred to as the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:28-9). This simile reflects the great and passionate love that Jesus has for his spouse, the church (Ephesians 5:32).
We are currently betrothed to him (Hosea 2:19-20), but he has not yet come to earth to claim us for eternity. But when the perfect time has come, He will gather us to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).
The second character in this parable is the group of 10 virgins. These symbolize people who profess to have a relationship to God.
Just as the virgins or bridesmaids were supposed to be watching expectantly for the groom, so we are to be expectantly looking for the second coming of Christ. We are not just to believe in it, but rejoice at the thought of it. We should long for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). The fact of his future coming should affect our entire life – it should be a guide in all that we do, think, say and feel.
The chief duty of the bridesmaids was to have their lights shining brightly as they honor and do service to the bridegroom. Likewise, we are to let our gospel lights shine before the world in honor and service to Jesus our King (Philippians 2:15-16).
Matthew 25:2 – Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
Jesus tells us that some of the bridesmaids in this group are wise. Some are not. When they all stand in a group together, it is impossible for us to tell which are which.
If they represent people who profess to know God, then it is clear that the wise virgins are those that have a true and sincere relationship with God. The foolish virgins are hypocrites. They profess to know God, but they are not truly his children.
They may know the Christian lingo, they may attend church services and sing worship songs, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Jesus Christ. They are foolish.
Matthew 25:3-4 – For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
Their folly is in their lack of oil. They had just enough oil to make their lamps burn for a short time, but they were not prepared if the bridegroom should delay his coming.
Does this sound vaguely familiar? It should. Jesus expressed the same situation in the parable of the seeds:
Matthew 13:5-6 – Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and immediately they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
The foolish bridesmaids have no ‘reserves’. They have a lamp of profession in their hands, but they lack a true change in their hearts. They do not know the word. They are not rooted in their faith. Love does not rule their lives. They cannot endure even a small trial or tribulation. Despite what comes out of their mouths, they are void of true spiritual life. Isaiah describes them this way:
Isaiah 48:1 – Hear this, O house of Jacob… who swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.
Essentially, they are hypocrites. They have taken pains to convince their fellow bridesmaids that they have burning lights, but they cannot fool the one who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
This is opposed to the wise, who did have reserves of oil. Think of it this way – your heart is a vessel. Holy Spirit, the fuel/oil for your Christian walk, resides there; He fills your heart with power to serve Christ. He is the one who gives us strength to withstand trials and tribulations. He is the one who guides us into all truth. He points out good works for us to accomplish. He is the ‘down payment’ that guarantees our salvation. Without him, our Christian lights would quickly be extinguished.
Zechariah gives us a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit being the oil in our lamps in his vision in Zechariah chapter 4.
Zechariah 4:6 – Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.
How well are you acquainted with Holy Spirit? Do you work with him each day to accomplish the will of God? If not, I suggest you get to know him better. He is your power for righteous living; with his assistance, your light will shine before men, causing them to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).
Matthew 25:5 – As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
Notice that all of the virgins sleep – the wise as well as the foolish. How are we to interpret this ‘sleep’?
One interpretation says that ‘sleeping’ is used in a shameful sense. This theory says that Christians have become spiritually apathetic. They have chosen to be happy and content sitting in church and hearing the word of God, but not really going out to work in the kingdom. They have stopped fighting against the devil; they have grown spiritually lazy. Instead of harvesting souls, they are slumbering.
Another interpretation says that ‘sleep’ actually denotes earthly occupations and cares. This theory says that as long as we dwell on earth, we must devote a certain part of our lives to working, eating, learning, family duties, etc. These things can distract us from our relationship with Christ. In this interpretation, that distraction is the same as falling asleep.
The third and most common interpretation is that ‘sleep’ refers to physical death. This analogy is frequently used in scripture. We are all going to die at some point, saints and sinners alike. We are also all going to be resurrected at some point. The saints of God (wise virgins) rise to eternal life while the sinners who reject Christ (foolish virgins) will rise to eternal death.
Regardless of which interpretation you think is correct, one thing is certain – the bridegroom tarried or was delayed. The ‘delay’ refers to the period of time that began when Jesus went up into heaven, and it ends with the rapture – the time when he comes to claim the church (his bride) as his own.
No man knows when this will take place. The believers back in Jesus’ day thought it would happen in their lifetime, but it didn’t. Many of our own Christian ancestors felt it would happen in their lifetimes, but it didn’t.
However, this doesn’t negate the promise of his coming. God has many plans and purposes that he wants to accomplish before he returns. The harvest of the earth must have time to ripen and we must have time to harvest it. The church must be purified, becoming without spot or wrinkle. God is always faithful to carry out what he has promised. Therefore we know that when the perfect time has arrived, Jesus will come again!
How much do you dwell on the return of Christ? Is it only a vague thought in the back of your mind? Does it somehow make you uneasy? Or is it a truth that drives you forward in your zeal for the Lord?
The writer of Hebrews says this:
Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
In other words, while Jesus tarries, we need to have a firm grip on the hope we have in Christ. We need to constantly remind ourselves that although the world is a mess, Jesus will bring all things under his authority. He has an appointed time to come and claim his bride, the church. He has an appointed time in which he will rise up, break the seals of the scroll (Revelation 5), and usher in the eternal age.
The promises he has given us regarding his return and our home with him in heaven are rock solid. We need to find scriptures that speak of these things, and keep them in our minds and hearts, even committing them to memory.
Way back in the book of Genesis, God promised Eve that he would send a deliverer to free mankind from sin. She thought it would happen in her lifetime, but it didn’t. Yet, the promise was still valid. At the appointed time, Jesus came to earth and sacrificed his life for us all, proving that God was faithful to his promise.
Habakkuk 2:3 – For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
So it will be with the rapture. We may or may not see it in our lifetime, but the promise is sure. The appointed time will come. God is faithful to all that he has promised.
Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…
Our time on earth should always be lived with the realization that Christ is returning. We should speak of this often to one another, reminding each other that lost opportunities can never be regained. We need to work for the kingdom today; there is no promise of tomorrow.
In light of his future coming, we should support each other in our endeavors for Christ. We should pray without ceasing. We should rejoice at all times. We should love the lost, even if they don’t agree with our point of view and be ready to share the gospel on all occasions.
Above all, we need to be filled with the mighty Holy Spirit, who will lead and guide us during our time on earth.
Hebrews 10:25 – …not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
If at all possible, I encourage you to be in fellowship with each other. If you can go to church, by all means, do so! The church needs you! There are people there who need your wisdom and experiences. They need to hear your testimony. They need you to lay hands on them, and pray for them or share a prophetic word.
If It isn’t possible for you to come to church for some reason, I encourage you to find a very small group of family or friends that you are comfortable with, and fellowship with them. Listen to sermons together. Worship together. Pray for each other. Serve communion to each other. Be a strength to others when they are weak, and they will do the same for you.
And all of us need to encourage each other. Don’t assume that just because someone is smiling or saying they are fine, that they don’t need an encouraging word. Jesus tells us that in the final era of time, the world will be wicked, violent and haters of God. In that environment, we had better be in the practice of encouraging each other.
Matthew 25:6 – But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
In the parable, the bridegroom arrives suddenly and unexpectedly. A loud cry goes forth, waking the virgins from their slumber. The time of the celebration has finally arrived and they must arise immediately to meet the long awaited groom.
What does this mean to us?
THE KING IS COMING!
There used to be an old saying that the only two sure things in life were death and taxes. That saying is only half right; the two sure things in life are death and the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
John 14:3 – And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
How will you use your time on earth until Christ returns or calls you home through death? Will you invest all your time and resources on the things of this life, or will you store up treasures in heaven?
Matthew 25:7 – Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.
When the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, they were preparing for the imminent coming of the bridegroom. They were making themselves ready to receive him.
Spiritually speaking, men and women will often scramble to prepare themselves to meet God when they feel death is imminent. But alas! It is often too late. The best time to prepare for eternity is right now.
The question has been asked, ‘How can we live a life that is pleasing to God?’
The answer, of course, is ‘one day at a time.’
Each and every day we need to live for Christ. Each day, read the word. Each day, spend time with God in prayer and worship. Each day, look for opportunities to plant the seed of the word of God, or water that seed in someone’s life or harvest a soul for Christ. Each day, encourage and disciple others. Each day, find a way to strike a blow at our enemy. Then, when the call comes for us to meet Christ, whether through death or his return, we will be ready to meet him. Our vessels will be full of oil.
Matthew 25:8-9 – And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
Now the foolish virgins become aware of their need for fuel. It suddenly occurs to them that they have been foolish in preparing for the wedding celebration. They are not ready for the events that have come upon them. How terrifying that feeling would be!
At the same time, it occurs to them that others are well prepared. Those they despised or mocked for their deep commitment to preparing for the bridegroom, are now revealed as wise. How the foolish wish they were like them now!
In their desperation, they appeal to the wise for help, but the wise cannot share what they have laid up for themselves; the foolish must procure their own oil.
Spiritually speaking, there will be people who come face to face with death (or the return of Christ) and suddenly realize that they are unprepared. Their excuses are no good, nor can they rely on the merits of someone else. We shall all be judged individually. Those who want to be welcomed by the bridegroom must have personal preparation, personal faith and personal holiness. We have no authority to accept grace and salvation for someone else. Each person has the right to decide for themselves what their relationship to God will be.
So the wise give the foolish a wise answer – go to the dealers (the ministers of the gospel) and get what you need.
In fact, the advice to “go and buy for yourselves” is exactly what the wise have done. Right up until the time the cry/signal came announcing the appearance of the bridegroom, grace and mercy had been available without limit:
Isaiah 55:1, 3 – Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…
The wise took full advantage of this offer, listening to the words of God and accepting salvation through the shed blood of Christ.
All of a sudden, the foolish virgins want to buy grace and mercy, but it is too late. The situation has changed. The salvation they are now desperately seeking was only available until they drew their last breath. Once they died, they no longer had access to it.
Matthew 25:10 – And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
The implication here is clear. Those who are prepared to meet the bridegroom (Jesus) are admitted into the kingdom of God. Once they were all inside, the way was shut.
Here is something interesting to consider. The scriptures say that when the flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut the door:
Genesis 7:16 – And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.
This was not a mistake or an afterthought. It is a reflection of the wisdom of God. I am sure that once the flood came, many of the wicked who failed to take the message of repentance seriously came to Noah’s back yard and pounded on the door of the ark, begging to be let in. But Noah was relieved of any burden in that respect – God had shut the door; only he could open it.
The same is true in this parable. When the bridegroom shut the door, no one else was admitted.
Likewise, when the door to heaven is shut, no one will be able to cross that threshold either.
Revelation 3:8 – I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it…
No one can shut a door that God opens; no one can open a door he has shut.
What does this mean for the foolish?
The door of opportunity was closed – those who had many opportunities to repent but always put it off until ‘tomorrow’ have now lost their chance.
The door of mercy was closed – God is longsuffering to all men, but there is a time limit. When we die or Christ returns, the age of grace will end for us.
The door of hope was closed – Jesus is the only hope of eternal life; there is no other name under heaven whereby you can be saved. If you have rejected him, all hope is lost for you.
The door of heaven was closed – Those who reject heaven will still find an open door – the door to the bottomless pit of hell.
What does this mean for the righteous?
The door is closed to all effects of sin – No death, disease, mental illness, broken relationships or heartache will be allowed through heaven’s door.
The door is closed to the worries of earthly life – No longer will we concern ourselves over food, clothes, money, education or work.
The door is closed to death – We will never again experience death ourselves, nor will we be affected by the death of anyone we love.
The door is closed to all wickedness – No murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters or liars will be allowed to enter heaven’s door (Revelation 21:8).
Which side of the door are you on?
Matthew 25:11-12 – Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us,’ but he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Though the foolish cry out to the bridegroom, they are too late. It will be too late to ask for mercy when the day of judgment arrives.
Matthew 7:21 – Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Jesus, who knows the thoughts and intents of every heart, says emphatically that he does not know these foolish people. They have made a vain profession of religion with their mouths, but they hearts and lives were unchanged.
Matthew 25:13 – Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
And now we come to the ultimate message of the parable. Jesus warns all of us to be watchful every day, for we do not know the time or date of his return (or our own deaths). We must live every day in close communion with our Lord, believing and rejoicing in the knowledge that he will one day come and usher us into heaven to be with him forever!
Let me give you some encouragement:
As long as I can remember, I have heard people say that Christ could come any day. The fact that he hasn’t yet, does not mean that he won’t. It just means that he has an appointed time set aside to come and claim his bride. So take heart! One day all our struggles will be over. One day we will be ushered into the wonderful marriage supper of the lamb and we will dwell with Christ forever.
In the meantime, I suggest that you find several scriptures that speak of the return of Christ and his great love for the church, and memorize them. They will be a wonderful encouragement to you.
Let me give you some relief:
People talk a lot about the end of time, referring to it as the apocalypse or Armageddon. They frequently describe it as a time of upheaval and distress; a time of economic chaos and violence; a time of lawlessness when every man must look out for himself.
But to the true child of God, the end of time is not a time to be afraid or worried. It is a time of rejoicing, because Christ will return for us, his bride. On that day we will find relief from sin and death.
Let me give you some strength:
As Christians, we all want to be more like Christ. Usually, that does not happen all at once. It happens little by little, day by day. So forget the mistakes of your past. Move ahead and achieve the things that are before you, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.