Matthew 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins

This parable is an interesting example for parable study since it is often dismissed as a creation of the later church to explain the long-delay of the return of the Lord.  The parable is an allegory created by Matthew to explain why Jesus did not return as quickly as anticipated. For example, Eta Linnemann said that this parable “is certainly a creation of the early Church. A Christian prophet or teacher unknown to us uttered it in the name and spirit of Jesus.” (Parables, 126).

I would rather read this parable in the context of the others in Matthew 24-25.  The parable was intended to use common typology for Israel’s relationship with God found in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the relationship of God and Israel is pictured in the Old Testament as a marital relationship (Isa 54:4-6, 62:4-5, Ezek 16, Hosea).  The fact the main event in the parable is a wedding feast also may allude to the great victory banquet at the end of the ate (Isa 25:6-8).  If we follow Blomberg’s method for interpreting parables, then the bridegroom is the central character, the two sets of bridesmaids are the contrasting characters.  This would imply strongly that the bridegroom is God / Jesus, since in most of these sorts of parables God is in that central position.   The ten virgins or bridesmaids would then refer to the followers of Jesus who are waiting for his return.  Five are prepared for a long interim, the other five are not.

But other elements are not intended to be typological at all.  For example, the oil is sometimes equated to good works, or the merchants with the Church. (If you want to be ready for the return of Jesus, go and do good works in the Church?)  Likewise the closing of the door.   This is the “judgment” of the five foolish virgins, they are shut out of the wedding feast, not allowed to come in and serve their master.

What makes the bridesmaids “wise” or “foolish”?  It cannot be that they fell asleep, both are said to get drowsy and fall asleep.  The delay was so long that normal life had to go on. The issue is that the foolish five are unprepared for the long wait.  The type of lamp they used would need to be refueled when the groom arrived.  They did not think ahead and prepare for a lengthy wait. By preparing themselves, the five wise bridesmaids are allowed to join the groom and enter into the wedding feast.

But what of the unprepared virgins?  Why are they judged harshly?  The shutting of the door is an indication of final judgment:  there is no longer any way for them to get into the kingdom, they have missed out. The groom’s response to their please is that he does not know them.  This reminds us of 7:21-23, and 21:37.  In 7:21-23 Jesus says that not everyone that cries out “Lord Lord” will be in the kingdom, the same words are used here, the virgins cry out “Lord Lord” (NIV = Sir Sir!)

The groom’s response is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 7:23 and is a rabbinical formula to dismiss a student.   The implication is that they had the same opportunity to be ready, and that since they were not ready at the right time, they will have no part in the kingdom.  They remain outside, in the dark.  The fact is, they were always in the dark and only thought that they would enter into the Wedding Feast.

This is yet another example in Jesus’ teaching of a shocking reversal.  Those who think that they ought to be in the kingdom do not get in.  For me, this is a sober warning to the present, complacent church which thinks that when Jesus returns he is going to approve of what we have been doing.  I suspect not a few people will be on the outside, shouting out to Jesus, “Did we not do miracles in your name?  Did we not vote in your name?”   While it may be dark on the outside, it will certainly be crowded.

13 thoughts on “Matthew 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins

  1. In studying this parable for my paper I had time to reflect on many of things you mentioned. It is a really interesting parable whether or not it was spoke by Jesus or in the “spirit of Jesus.” I wonder why the foolish virgins didn’t prepare their lamps as the wise did. What made them think they were ready for the bridegroom’s return? Looking in on the story, I want to say to them how could you have been so stupid. Why didn’t you get ready like the others? What made you think you didn’t need to prepare?

    It seems harsh that they would do be given a second chance but that is the reality of the final judgment. Often times, I think we do not take the reality of this as seriously as we should. How many will think they are ready to enter the celebration and are not? We don’t talk about this kind of stuff in church much or in Bible studies. Sure we allude to it in sharing the gospel but we often lack in showing the harsher realities of God.

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    • I like what you are saying in your blog Anna! I think just like the unprepared virgins, some people think they are ready just because God is loving and He’s this big ole’ teddy bear in the sky, He wont discipline us; when really there are some “harsher realities of God” (Anna Spencer) that we may overlook. I think some people also believe that God will accept them because they believe there is a God. That is good enough in their minds. When in reality God’s Word says, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
      I think people underestimate the Holiness of God. God can not have anything imperfect in His presence and therefore He cannot accept anyone who is “not ready” (Saved by the Grace of Jesus Christ). So when the judgment comes within our lives will God have a reason to not accept us? Or are we fooled, thinking that we are prepared but yet do not have our sins washed clean so we can be in the presence of our Creator?

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    • “It seems harsh that they would do be given a second chance…” Did you mean to add a “not” to that sentence?

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      • Yes! “It seems harsh that they would not be given a second chance…”

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  2. In a sense I think that we are all asleep living in the world waiting for Christ. It’s what we do with our time here that separates us from everyone else, in this case, the wise virgins and the foolish ones. When reading this parable I thought of Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I think that because the foolish virgins did not bring oil they were not able to keep the light shining for the groom, therefore the groom said he did not know them. The foolish virgins were foolish because they did not think ahead to the time that the groom would return. They were consumed with the present time. I don’t know if they didn’t think to bring any just because they assumed the groom would be on time, or just were lazy and thought it was unnecessary to bring it, but either way they did not plan ahead and prepare.

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    • Nichole, you make a good point in the end, in talking about preparation. The key to this parable is preparation no matter how long the bridegroom is delayed. The issue is not having a lamp or falling asleep because all the virgins did that. The critical moment is the the unpreparedness of five of the virgins. No second chance is given the decision is finally. The door is closed and the party is by invitation only.

      This parable is much like the parable of the wedding banquet. Both speak about preparation (right garments and oil for lamps). Also, in both parables the garment and oil cannot be transferred.

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  3. I really like what is being said here. I am not doing this particular parable for my paper, but the following one about the Talents. I have been learning a lot in my reasearch and am finding it very valuable. When we think of this parable about the Ten Virgins, we tend to think more about being prepared for the day of Christ’s return, whenever that may be, but we tend to overlook the fact that Jesus is telling the disciples how they should live while he is away. Jesus is explaining to them that “No one knows about the day or hour,” (Mt. 24:36). Because no one knows, they need to be living their daily lives as if Christ would return that very day, always on watch. We should not be fretting over exactly what day or hour he will be returning, for it could be any day he chooses. This is why we need to be prepared, and in order to be prepared, we need to be living our lives for Chirst every day and every hour.
    Joe’s question really struck me, “So when the judgment comes within our lives will God have a reason to not accept us?” The disciples and believers who choose not to live their daily lives for Christ, as if he would return any day, will be told by Christ, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you,” (Mt. 25:12). That is a scary thought. I know that when judgment day comes, I do not want Christ to say, “I don’t know you.” That would be one of those “harsher realities of God,” (Anna Spencer) that I do NOT want to see!

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  4. I happen to be doing the Wedding Banquet parable for my paper, and as I have done research, I’m discovering a lot of parallels between these two. As most people, I equated this parable with coming judgment for people who reject the kingdom. But what good is that? Why would Jesus tell people what is so blatantly obvious, especially in a society that understands the line between rebellion and conformity. Revolutionaries had no place in a kingdom, especially in first century Rome. The crowd would understand that rejection of the Kingdom would ultimately be equated with judgment.

    This all makes a lot of sense to me. Seriously, it all just clicked. Jesus, in his ministry didn’t have time to state the obvious, He was here to infiltrate our hearts, our attitudes, our intentions and completely reverse them. It scares me to think of the church in the state it is in. People are acting like good Christians, but may be outside in darkness. The only way we can strive to be the Christians who God expects is to adjust our heart posture and encourage others to do the same.

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    • In Matthew 13, he quotes Isaiah 6 as the motivation for parables. They are to draw people into the kingdom who are genuinely interested, but they obscure the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” from those who are on the outside. I am not sure Jesus “didn’t have time to be obvious,” that seems alot easier than crafting parables which function in both of those (opposite) ways.

      You comment about revolutionaries is good – the kingdom will not come through armed rebellion against Rome. Jerusalem tried that twice, and it never did work.

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  5. This parable is another demonstration of the relationship between God and Israel. Some of the virgins make it into the Kingdom and the others don’t. This is a harsh reality that can been seen in Matthew 7 as well. What truly makes one prepared? Are we required to keep the lamps burning? What is the symbolic meaning behind the lamps? The church I grew up in scared me into asking Jesus to be my Savior over 100 times. From my early perspective, fear drove my relationship with God. Questions like “if Jesus came to your house today….” distorted my thoughts of God. This parable displays two types of people. Those who are prepared for Christ, and some that think their ready but are not. What category are we in? What places us into the category with the 5 wise virgins?

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  6. Side note: We all wish that the churches in general are full of people who will not be locked outside in the time of judgment. Yes, I believe the Church is becoming complacent in general but, there are for sure a few big pockets of hope. Outside the church there is an astronomical amount of people who think they are Christians but, don’t really know what being a Christian is all about. They see Christians doing good works and being nice to other people but, they don’t see what is going on in the inside because we are too afraid to tell them.
    Just another side note: I don’t like anytime that somebody (Eta Linnemann) says a parable is a creation of the early church because they may someday what to think that for a parables because they might not like what they are teaching.
    This parable makes me shiver because of the idea that you can’t mooch off of anyone anymore. You can’t rely on others to make it look like you are doing something for the cause of Christ. In a modern time application could this parable be highlighting the fact that 20% of the people do 80% of the work? I often think what is the least I can do to get by: to make myself feel good. I don’t know if it is correct but, this parable makes me feel like I should and could be doing more for the cause of Christ, even though salvation is not based on works? How does James 2:26 “so faith without deeds is dead” fit into this?

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  7. I feel like in many ways we are all in a sense sleeping in a world and just waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ. I like all that is being discussed here. The fact of the matter is, churches do not talk enough about the harsh realities of God. They are very much alluded while presenting the gospel and how God will bring judgment but it is not nearly as expounded on as it should be.

    Often Christians mistaken God as this always loving guy but the reality of it is that God can and will be harsh. Ana brings up a good point by way of saying that Once Christ has arrived, those who have not prepared, will NOT be given a second chance

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  8. I want to talk a little bit about what some have already mentioned about the characteristics of God. We often try to make God who we want him to be. We like that he is love, forgiving, compassionate, etc. We don’t like to think that he is just and wrathful. We like to make God who we think he should be, when all we need to do is read scripture and see the error in our ways. This makes me think of the typical sermon you often hear on Father’s day. We hear that God is the ultimate super father, and we must try to emulate his example. A good father disciplines his children, and God is no different. What good would it do us if we were never punished or held accountable? We would probably go on living, doing the same things we always do. In this parable Jesus says to the foolish virgins, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”, (Matthew 25:12). This verse is so frightening to me. Not as a Christian and a believer, but thinking of those that will hear these words spoken from Jesus. I cannot even imagine or begin to think about the pain of hearing these words spoken form the Son of God.

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