Matthew 25:1-13 – 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).

Ten Virgins Parable

I suggest this parable should be read in the context of the other parables in Matthew 24-25, as well as the whole of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple his final week. 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).

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?)  This is very “preachable,” but I am not at all convinced that was Jesus’ original point.

What makes the bridesmaids “wise” or “foolish”? It cannot be that they fell asleep since both the wise and foolish 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. By preparing themselves, the five wise bridesmaids are allowed to join the groom and enter into the wedding feast.

But what about the unprepared virgins? Why are they judged harshly? The shutting of the door is an indication of final judgement: 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.

The groom’s response is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 7:23 and is a rabbinical formula used 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, they remain on the outside.  I think that the context supports this reading – what else do you seen in Jesus’ final week that supports this conclusion?  Who should we identify as the “wise” and “foolish” in the immediate context of the parable?

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

  1. The shocking reversal is found a couple other times in Matthew 25. In the parable of the talents, the servant who knew God ‘is a hard man’ (25:24) was thrown out. The righteous in the 25:37-40 thought they would make it into the Kingdom, but they too were condemned. Another shocking reversal is found in the woman who anointed Jesus. The Pharisees thought that the woman ought to use the perfume to help the poor, but Jesus was more impressed with her because she prepared him for his burial. The Pharisees were more focused on doing righteous acts that they missed who the Messiah was. Although they were doing the right things, the shocking reversal is that they were missing the big picture. They did not believe Jesus is Messiah, so they were to be judged according to that. However, this woman who poured perfume on Jesus understood who he was. Again, the people who are supposed to get it are not getting it. The ones who are not supposed to get it are getting it. Wright says, “But one prophet after another, one psalm after another had indicated that things were not necessarily going to work quite that neatly, and indeed that they might not work that way at all” (Wright 152). The expectations of the Messiah were definitely different, and the people who understood who Christ was and is were not the people that should have understood.

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    • Josh makes a great point. “The expectations of the Messiah were definitely different, and the people who understood who Christ was and is were not the people that should have understood.” This along with all the other teachings pointed out by Josh in Matt 25 show the same thing. Jesus uses these shocking and unexpected reversals throughout his teaching. This goes right along with the idea of the Perfect Storm in Wright’s “Simply Jesus”. The Jewish expectations were part of the storm that was culminating at the time of Jesus. He did not meet their expectations, in fact, he reversed them many times.

      I found the bit about the early church adding this parable interesting. I agree with you that it is not a construction of the early church, rather it is best understood in the context in which it appears. It’s relation to the delay of the return of Christ seems to fit well in its immediate context (after Matt 24:36-51). It is hard to say that Jesus’ original intent for the Parable is to teach of his delay in returning, but it does seem to fit the context.

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  2. There are numerous examples given to us throughout the ministry of Jesus in which he condemns individuals who think highly of themselves and consider themselves worthy of the kingdom and then uplifts or exalts those whom in the world’s eyes are sinners who should be condemned. One such example is in Matthew chapter 8 where Jesus is astonished by the faith of the centurion who was likely a Gentile. Jesus praises this man for his faith and said that he had not seen such great faith even in all Israel. Thus an individual from whom no one expected such great faith and readiness to receive Jesus and his healing power was the one who proved himself worthy. Thinking also of the parable dealing with the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18, most would have deemed the tax collector as unworthy and the Pharisee as worthy—and this mentality is clearly understood by these men whose prayers reflect their heart—yet Jesus shows that the tax collector is the one who went home justified before God rather than the Pharisee. Jesus was telling this parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else…” (vs. 9). Directly following this parable, Jesus rebukes those who looked down upon the children and instructs the people not to hinder them as the kingdom of God “belongs to such as these” (vs. 16). Throughout his ministry through the telling of parables as well as through real-life interactions with the people around him, Jesus introduced an aspect of his kingdom that brought salvation to even the lowliest of sinners. He showed through his teachings multiple times that salvation was a heart issue rather than a ranking system of more or less worthy as so many people tended to think of it as. I think that those who should be regarded as wise are those who prepare themselves as did the virgins who were ready when the bridegroom returned. Yet, I think an equally important aspect is a humble attitude that recognizes oneself as unworthy, yet is able to receive salvation through the acceptance of grace. The foolish are clearly those who pride themselves in their actions and think of themselves in terms of better than another or in any way worthy of what Jesus offers them.

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  3. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, there’s a few instances that come to mind, though there’s many many more, when it comes to being content. Also, there’s one where he talks about judging others, which I think it applies to this one. In Matthew 7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. The reason why this one came to mind was because the hypocrite would be the one that thought he had it all figured out and he condemned the brother for having a little thing out of place, when in reality, he had it all wrong. In this parable, the “foolish” ones would be the ones that thought they had it all figured out (didn’t bring enough oil) and the “wise” ones would be the ones that would deny contentment, instead, they equipped themselves for whatever could come (bringing more than enough oil).

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  4. Something that I think must be asked is this, “If the only issue is that one group was ready to wait and the other was not ready to wait a long time, what on Earth is done (or not done) by the latter to earn an eternity outside the kingdom?” I don’t know that I have an answer to this, but i am quite curious. Perhaps the group that runs out of oil is the group that spends so much time focusing on the present and their need for righteousness that they miss out on enjoying the gift of life and the pleasure of waiting for the Bridegroom. Perhaps those who are ready to wait are sheep, who help the poor and needy, and those not ready to wait are the goats. Or perhaps the foolish bridesmaids simply did not bring any oil at all and are therefore unworthy.

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    • This is an important question, or maybe a real problem. If oil *must* equal the Holy Spirit in an allegorical interpretation of the Parable, then the foolish virgins have to be “saved” and then lost. Maybe that is why I tenaciously reject allegorizing, sicne it does not fit my theology. On the other hand, I reject allegorizing the parables in almost every case! I think the foolish virgins are parallel to the Goats and the unproductive servant in the other two parables in this context. They are all unprepared.

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  5. I think Jared’s question is the reason why we want to figure out who are the foolish and who are the wise. So that we may apply it to our lives and do one thing or the other in order to be prepared whenever the time arrives. I know that in many stories Jesus tells he exalts the humbled and humbles those who exalt themselves. The wise become foolish, and the seemingly foolish to the world end up to be the wise ones. So we try to answer this question of what did they do differently that made them wise bridesmaids and foolish bridesmaids? As far as the story goes, it seems like the only legitimate thing they did in order to be wise was to be prepared with oil they would need to keep their lamps burning while they wait. Metaphorically, I am sure people have and could do many things with this. But the text says they were prepared. So in relation to that, any other people who were prepared could be counted as wise in the immediate context, and people unprepared in immediate context could be considered foolish. So in 25:16-17 we see wise men who were prepared to go out and double the talents entrusted to them, and in verse 18 we see the scared unprepared man hide his talent in the ground. As with the parable of the ten virgins, we can metaphorically make this mean many things. But when it comes down to it in text the result is that to everyone who has will more be given and to he who has not even what he has will be taken away. Shortly after that in the same chapter the goats are made out to be foolish and the sheep wise. But is it because they helped the needy and poor, as Jared said? Should we then count ourselves as wise upon helping the needy and the poor and clothing, feeding, and giving drink to the least of these? Because we do these things does that mean we are prepared? Is that a way or preparing ourselves for Jesus. Perhaps in doing these things we forget the point… would we be wise then? I think the way Maggie puts it I agree with most, “Yet, I think an equally important aspect is a humble attitude that recognizes oneself as unworthy, yet is able to receive salvation through the acceptance of grace. The foolish are clearly those who pride themselves in their actions and think of themselves in terms of better than another or in any way worthy of what Jesus offers them.”

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  6. The Parable of the Ten Virgins is interesting to me because there is a lot that we can learn from it. I think that the unprepared virgins were not judges harshly. If the closing of the door is an indication of the final judgment then I do not think the groom was harsh because the reality is that some of us are saved and know the power of Christ and some of us do not. In Matthew 24:36-51, Jesus talks about how the day and the hour of the end of the age is unknown. Jesus goes on and says that we need to be prepared because we do not know. I think that we should identify the “wise” as believers who are prepared for Christ’s return and the “foolish” as those who are not prepared. Also, I thought about the Gentiles and the Jews. I do not even know if this can apply but I thought about the faith of the Gentiles. Some of the Gentiles had more faith in Jesus then God’s chosen people. Could the “wise” be the Gentiles that believe and have faith in Jesus and the “foolish” be the God’s chosen people who are “blind” to all of God’s promises and do not accept or give their lives to Christ? Once again I do not know if I am stretching this example but I do agree that this parable could be talking about those who think that they ought to be in the kingdom do not get in and remain on the outside.

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    • This is an interesting suggestion, Marissa. I am of the opinion that the faithful gentiles int the gospels are there to make a stark contrast with the unfaithful Jews (if even the Gentiles get Jesus, why can’t the pharisees?), Maybe the wise are all of the underclass of people who “get” Jesus, tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers and even Gentiles.

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  7. Until his last breath Jesus countered the teachings of his day on who would and who wouldn’t make it into the Kingdom of Heaven. My mind goes to the scene of his very crucifixion. We have Jesus on a cross dying, surrounded by the Pharisees the religious leaders of the day, scoffing and mocking him, daring him to get off his cross, to free himself. These men, were in Jesus’ day the clear candidates of who would enjoy the benefits of the kingdom. And then we have hanging next to Jesus, 2 thieves. One of them joins in the scoffing, but the other rebukes him saying, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:40-42). Jesus then answers the man by saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Then after Christ has died, we have the words of the centurion at the crucifixion stating, “Surely this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). We do not know the fate of the Centurion, or of the Pharisees there that day, but we can see how the centurion is the one who’s word display faith, while the Pharisees blaspheme. And we have our Lord, turning to a dying criminal, telling him that he will join him in paradise. It’s a powerful statement, both on the subjects of faith and social status.

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  8. Like Mitch, my mind goes to other parables that speak on the same subject, but in another way of explaining it. A different situation. One thing we know, is that the way Christ would speak in these stories or even parables was huge for the people in the Jewish culture. So I am sure the oil had huge significance to the people who heard the story of the Ten Virgins. Christ proclaimed many parables that had the same meaning, but were different stories. I believe this was a way to reach all people of the nation of Israel, hit them in every aspect of their culture.

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  9. Yes, this parable is very interesting to me and causes me to question some things. It causes me to really assess whether or not I am being prepared or am I falsely thinking I am ready for the return of Christ. It is not to say that I question my salvation but nonetheless it is a head scratcher. This parable and the explanation of the parable makes me think of Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Just when you think narrow is narrow, I think in the end we will come to a staggering reality, that the narrow Jesus is talking about is extremely narrow and really, very few will find it. I don’t think this means that salvation and the invitation to the kingdom is narrow, Jesus desires all to come to him, but in the end, there will be many who think they have figured it out and have made it into the banquet, but they will be sadly mistaken.

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  10. This parable is one that I have not given much attention and though to but studying it more in depth now I realized it is a very interesting one. Right away in the parable, there are two groups described, the foolish virgins and the wise virgins depicting what could be believers and nonbelievers. They could also represent those who believed they were ready and prepared but were not. The virgins went about their lives waiting for the return of Christ and only half of them used that time to stay focused on God and what they had to do before he returned. I believe that what makes the one half of the virgins foolish is that while they were living their lives waiting for the return of Christ, they often wandered away and lost their focus which should have been on God, or they never even knew Him and ended up completely missing Him when he did return. This could be us as Christians as well. We get so focused and distracted by our everyday lives that we forget that we have a purpose to fulfil before Jesus comes back for us. If we do not prepare and use our time appropriately, we will miss out on the gift of Heaven.

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  11. If there is one thing we know about the return of Christ, and our day of judgment- it is that we have no idea when it will be, for the Bible tells us in Matthew 24:36 ““But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”. Although nobody knows when the return of Christ will be, it is important that we treat everyday as though it is the day He does return, or else it may be too late for us. This parable of the Ten Virgins reminds me of another parable, when Jesus said “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into”(Matthew 24:43). This too alludes to the unpreparedness of people, and if everyone knew when Jesus was coming, then they would be prepared. In the context of the parable of the Ten Virgins, the wise are the 5 who were ready, while the foolish are the 5 who were not.

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  12. Trying to be prepared for the second coming is a tireless effort. Yet, Jesus just wants us to be prepared by following Him, giving our lives to Him and not living for ourselves. In the parable, the five that were foolish and got shut out, did so maybe because they thought they would have more time to make smarter choices. They knew “Jesus” was coming back, but they figured instead that it would be awhile, so as the five wise ones prepared for His return, the foolish sat on their time and soiled their chance to be prepared for the return. Maybe the five foolish bridesmaids didn’t have a clear understanding of what being prepared looked like? Maybe expectations weren’t clear for them? In that case if the parable is creating a picture of God’s people and can be applied today, how might we be more prepared? I think that as we read more of the gospels and Jesus’ teachings we find that loving God, and loving and serving others are the two most important commandments. That where are hearts are is more important than the works we may be doing.

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  13. I have really enjoyed the deep study of the parables throughout these blogs. I am learning so much that I would never have even considered before. Upon my first reading of this parable I could not figure out what the ten bridesmaids were even doing waiting for the groom? Obviously reading it in a 21st century context is not how we should read this. Strauss says that often modern readers “miss the powerful impact they would have had on the first-century Jewish hearer” (p.541). Within the context, the hearers would have understood the ultimate result of the women being ill-prepared and the harshness of the consequence. Jesus’ teaching immediately before this parable in Matt. 24:36-44 support the understanding of the importance of being ready. It is sad to think of all the people who like the foolish bridesmaids, are in a state of “semi-preparedness” which will ultimately not be enough. This parable is a reminder to me of not only the importance of my own walk with God, but how important it is to share the true path to salvation with others.
    Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus. 2nd. Ed. (2020). Zondervan Academic

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  14. To me this parable is so relevant to today’s society and even to myself. It is easy to become okay with going through the motions and telling yourself you have time to do what is right, that you will eventually do what God asks, but in this parable God is showing that the time is now, we must be prepared always because you never know when he will return. In his final days Jesus wanted to emphasize the urgency of the kingdom, we must always be ready, always be following Christ, not just when its convenient to do so or on our own time. We are always on God’s time, never our own, and we should live that way.

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  15. I think that the sentence “those who think they ought to be in the kingdom do not get in” really is the answer to the question of who should we consider wise and foolish in this parable and the others surrounding it (Phillip Long). Isaiah 5:21 even says “[w]oe to those who are wise in their own opinion” (HCSB). These people are called foolish and will not enter the kingdom of God because they haven’t humbled themselves and exalted the LORD. One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “either God is God, or I’m trying to be” and I think that this definitely applies to the parables we are talking about here (Jennifer Taylor). The servant, the 5 virgins who didn’t prepare, and the slave entrusted with one talent were all doing what they thought was correct. The servant thought he was going to get away with disobedience because his master wasn’t home, the unprepared virgins thought that surely the bridegroom was going to come at the time they expected, and the man with one talent thought to escape his master’s wrath by wasting/hiding the possession his master had given him. This is how I believe we can identify the wise and the foolish in the parables, by figuring out which were wise in their own eyes and which ones weren’t and were prepared for the possibility that something might happen that they don’t expect.

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  16. The parable of the ten virgins can be better understood in the context of the other parables surrounding it in Matthew 24-25. It strived to use common typology for Israel’s relationship with God. Blomberg gives a point method to understanding these parables and uses this to show the characters role. The bridegroom is Jesus and the ten virgins would be bridesmaids. The ten represent individuals waiting for Jesus’ return. Half of them are prepared for it to be a long time as they are patient individually and their resources. The other half is foolish in their lack of planning for the future and how long it could take for the bridegroom to come back. It was not their sleep that they are seen to be foolish for, they all did. The foolish actions came when the bridesmaids chose their torch and how long they allowed it to be lit. As time went on they woke up when the bridegroom came back but they no longer had oil to light the lamp to join in celebration after. Their actions were judged because they were not ready or prepared, and therefore not welcomed. I think about the next parable as well in Matt. 25 as the manager gave five talents and one did not lose him, he just did not invest it. I think it is easy to think we can get into Heaven by the minimum faith required, and while we do have a free gift of salvation, God knows our hearts and motivation for believing in Him.

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  17. I find it weird that Jesus would exclude people from Heaven just because they weren’t prepared. I understand that they had the same opportunity to be ready but this, at least to me, does not seem like the righteous thing to do. They were already punished for not being prepared with their lamp fuel, why punish them again? Later in the reading this is cleared up though, with the saying, “The fact is, they were always in the dark and only thought that they would enter into the Wedding Feast.” This shows that the five left in the dark expected everything even though they had done nothing to deserve it. This is why the five in the dark were “foolish,” not because they forgot to bring enough fuel, but because they expected and thought they deserved everything even though they had done nothing to have it come to them. The wise we’re prepared and did such to deserve to enter the kingdom. This was a tricky message but leaves a lasting imprint about always doing what we can. This parable really makes you think if you are doing enough to enter the kingdom, or if there is more that you can do.

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  18. The general and clearly seen intent of the parable is that at an uncertain hour, Christ will return and that His people must be ready. Being ready means being prepared for any situation happens in our lives and keeping our eyes focused on Jesus as we wait for His arrival at all times. As shown by the fact that all the virgins were asleep when the call arrived, it reveals that when Christ returns, it doesn’t matter what we do. We can be working, eating, sleeping, or enjoying leisure activities. Whatever we are doing we must stay focused on Him tso that when that time comes we aren’t looking for “more oil” or trying to get ready we will already be prepared. The five virgins who have the extra oil represent the born-again ones who look forward to the coming of Christ with eagerness. They have saving faith and have vowed that whatever happens, whether it be a long time or unfavorable circumstances, they will look with eagerness when Jesus returns. The five virgins without oil portray false believers who without real love for Christ, reap the advantages of the Christian religion. They are more nervous about the gathering than they are about longing to see the bridegroom. Their dream is that their affiliation with true believers will lead them to the end of the kingdom. The belief of one person in Jesus will not save another.

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  19. I have issues with putting this parable on the early church and not a story Jesus would have told. That does not sit right with me. We see other apocalyptic parables told by Jesus and those are often given the same regard as this one. Is Jesus not allowed to talk about the coming kingdom in his ministry? The early church may have had some issues and we may be able to blame some interpretation errors on them, but to say they wrote a whole parable and because modern scholars don’t like what it says, we have to throw it all out? Another solution would be to look at this in its original historical context and reevaluate where some interpretations may have been wrong, especially in regards to application. Seeing the Pharisees as an example of someone who did not keep their lamp burning would be close in context. They believed themselves to be righteous and above reproach. They thought the kingdom of heaven was built for them, but they missed the mark on becoming prepared. They neglected the words of Jesus and became dependent on their works. I just did a blog post on the goats and the sheep’s, and they too thought they were getting in. Does this parable also reflect the Jewish population and the Gentile population? Giving a prophetic message to the those who accept Christ? The true lamp holders.

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  20. I have read this parable before but I have never thought through it on a deeper level. It is important to really dig deep into what Jesus was talking about and determine whether we are truly ready for Jesus’ return. As Christians, we have to assess ourselves and ask if we are like the unprepared virgins or if we are truly ready for his return. It is up to God to judge us so as Christians we need to walk in his light and continue to ready an learn from the Gospel to be more ready everyday for his return.

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  21. When I read this parable of the ten virgins, I immediately thought of a reference to the end times. In looking up the article of Blomberg’s method as mentioned in the text (Strauss, p. 464), I was able to cast each character and the setting as I would have with a miracle and interpret it accordingly. This article that Strauss uses allows me to better understand how miracles are written to teach. Within this passage in Matthew speaking of the 10 virgins, it mentions that there are 5 wise and 5 foolish, each taking a lamp with and without oil, respectively (Matthew 25:3-4, ESV). Using this Blomberg method, I was able to understand the roles played in this passage. God is symbolized as the bridegroom, and the virgins are believing and nonbelieving people. The foolish virgins (without oil in their lamp) indicate the nonbelievers while the wise virgins (with oil in their lamp) indicate believers. The end times are explained in this parable as the foolish virgins who were unable to walk through the door to Jesus. While this may seem impractical, during Jesus’ ministry, He was always focused on furthering His Father’s Kingdom. I personally think that this parable is practical for teaching about the end times. Are we ready for God to return to earth? Are we preparing? There is a great message here in this parable about Christ’s ministry while on earth as well as His anticipated return.

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