PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS
MT 25:1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. MT 25:6 "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' MT 25:7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' MT 25:9 " 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' MT 25:10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. MT 25:11 "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' MT 25:12 "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' MT 25:13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
[Joseph C. Dillow, 'The Reign of the Servant Kings', 1992, Schoettle Publishing, Miami Springs, Fl, pp. 390-1]:
'''Under normal conditions, although there were exceptions, there were four activities connected with marriage: (1) the betrothal, (2) the transfer of the bride to the bridegroom's house, (3) the marriage feast, and (4) the consummation. The first event, the betrothal, was a binding transaction declaring the fact of the marriage and specifying the terms agreed upon by the contracting parties. Although the bride and groom were legally married, they did not usually live together for a period of time. In fact, a delay of up to several years between the betrothal and the celebration of the marriage was common. After this indeterminate time and after the various contractual obligations had been fulfilled, the marriage feast was held, usually at the home of the bridegroom. However, the bride was first transferred to the bridegroom's home. She was accompanied by maidens who were involved in sword play and dancing and was arrayed in her bridal dress as she rode a horse in the front of a joyous wedding procession.
Normally in an Oriental wedding the bridegroom himself remained absent from the house and stayed with his relatives or friends until all the preparations for the wedding had been made. As he sat among his friends, he had the prerogative of deciding when to begin his procession to his home to meet his bride and her attendants who had already arrived and were waiting. As soon as he signified he was ready, the wedding procession began. Lanterns and torches were lit to guide him and his companions through the dark silent streets. As the bridegroom passed through the streets of the village on his journey to the banquet, a peculiar Oriental cry was raised from the lips of bystanders, 'Behold, the bridegroom. Come out to meet him' (v. 6). The time which elapsed between the transfer of the bride to the home of the bridegroom and the bridegroom's decision to begin his own procession to the banquet was up to the discretion of the bridegroom. He could leave his friends immediately or after a matter of hours. This period of uncertainty seems to be the 'delay of the bridegroom' (v. 5).
Presumably then the betrothal and transfer of the bride to the bridegroom's home has already occurred. We are to assume that the Lord has already come to receive his bride at the rapture. The ten virgins apparently await the coming of the bridegroom brings his bride with Him in a royal wedding celebration. During this time the bride is already in heaven with the Lord, and the virgins await the return of Christ to earth for the wedding celebration.
A wedding in Palestine was a great occasion. An entire village would turn out to accompany the bride on her journey to the groom's home and the banquet to follow. In fact, the rabbis agreed that a man might even abandon the study of the law to share in the joy of the wedding feast. When a Jewish couple married, they did not go away for a honeymoon but stayed at home, and for a week they kept open house. They were treated and even addressed as prince and princess. It was one of the happiest weeks in their lives. Only chosen friends were admitted to the festivities of that week. The foolish virgins had not only missed the marriage ceremony but the joyous week as well.
As mentioned above, the coming of the bridegroom was heralded by a shout, 'Behold the bridegroom. Come out to meet him.' When they heard this, the virgins were to take their lamps, make their way to join the procession at some convenient point, and then travel with it to the wedding banquet at the bridegroom's home.
The ten virgins are the regenerate believers of the future tribulation. The word 'virgin' means undefiled and is used elsewhere of regenerate people. (Rev 14:4; 2 Cor 11:12). It is not an appropriate picture for the unregenerate sinner. Since all are designated virgins, there is no reason to doubt that all are regenerate. No reason, that is, except the presuppositions of Experimental Predestinarian theology. One cannot argue that the foolish virgins proved themselves to be unregenerate because they did not persevere unless one knows beforehand that a lack of perseverance is proof that they were unregenerate - the very point in question!
These virgins had all slept. They all had lamps. Even the foolish valued the lamp, for without it they could not find their way to the banquet hall. They were not indifferent to the coming of the Lord. Indeed, all ten had gone out in faith to meet him. All of the virgins also had oil, even the foolish ones, but they did not have enough. M'Neile observes that 'they had oil in their lanterns, but not expecting delay had taken no extra oil. The next verse makes this clear.' Trench concurs, 'Nor is it that they are wholly without oil; they have some, but not enough; their lamps when they first go forth, are burning, otherwise they could not speak of them as on the point of expiring just as the bridegroom is approaching.'
It seems that this observation refutes the common Experimental Predestinarian interpretation that the virgins were unregenerate, i.e., had no oil at all. When the Lord says in v. 3 that the foolish 'took no oil with them,' He means that they took no extra oil with them. It is obvious that they took some oil because their lamps did burn. Due to the uncertainty regarding the time of the bridegroom's arrival, the lamps were normally kept burning during this interlude so that there would be no delay when he returned. It was presumptuous of the foolish virgins, however, to assume that they had enough. They should have prepared for either a short or a long delay in the bridegroom's return.
The lamp in view is probably the so-called 'Herodian lamp.' It was not a torch but a small clay lamp. These lamps were accompanied by an additional vessel which contained oil to keep the lamp burning after the smaller amount of oil in the lamp itself was exhausted. These extra vessels are referred to in v. 4. According to archaeologist Ralph Alexander, it was the custom for the lamp to be lit at dusk prior to the arrival of the bridegroom several hours later. There was, however, only enough oil in these lamps to burn for a few hours. There was, however, only enough oil in these lamps to burn for a few hours. At that time, after the lamps had begun to burn low, they needed to be replenished by the extra oil carried in the auxiliary vessels.
The ten virgins' lamps were lit at dusk and threatened to go out at midnight (v. 6). They had been burning for four or five hours. The foolish, however, did not take an extra vessel of oil along (vv. 3-4). They thought a few hours of burning would be sufficient!
They did have spiritual life, and their lamps burned for a while. They are like the rocky and the thorn-infested soils in the parable of the sower. In that case too there was growth and belief but no perseverance. It would seem that the burden of proof is on those who deny the regenerate nature of the five foolish virgins.
The fact that the lamps had been burning testifies to their regenerate state. The light emitted from the lamp is elsewhere defined as the good works of regenerate men (Mt 5:16). It is oil which energizes these works. The meaning of the oil is not specified, but we may surmise it refers to our faith in God, our obedience to Him, and the power and influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Specifically, it is the life which is prepared to meet the master. This life has developed a spiritual reserve, or preparedness, by means of good works, by fellowship with other Christians, and by prayer and Bible study. In a word, a supply of oil symbolizes 'preparedness.'
When a man fails to build up these spiritual reserves, he is unprepared to perform the work which God has called him to do. In the parable the ten virgins were probably part of the wedding festivities and, as was the custom in Oriental wedding, they may have provided some of the entertainment at the wedding banquet. But the foolish virgins discovered that the delay of the bridegroom to come to the wedding banquet meant they had not brought enough oil. The wise virgins counsel them to go and but some oil. Salvation cannot be bought. It costs nothing. It is free. John said, 'Take the water of life without cost' (Rev 22:17). Clearly, they are not being challenged to become converted! Rather, they are challenged to make preparation immediately by something that does cost, a life of discipleship. However, their good intentions are too late. Even though they set out to secure some oil, the bridegroom comes at the very hour they have decided to get prepared.
In order to be prepared for their participation in the coming wedding banquet, they must take forethought to be sure they had adequate oil. Similarly, the parable teaches we must persist in the things which lead ot spiritual preparedness if our lives are to continue to show good works. What had happened apparently is that the foolish virgins did not persist. Their initial works and dependence upon the Holy Spirit had not continued. They had not adequately considered that good beginnings are not all that is necessary to obtain a place at the banquet. We too must 'finish our course' because we are 'partakers of Christ [only] if we hold fast our confession firm to the end.'
What a tragedy to wait until it is too late to prepare! The parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. A student desiring to pass an examination simply cannot wait until the last minute to prepare. When the bridegroom comes, it will be too late to acquire the character traits, spiritual reserves, and faithful perseverance necessary to participate in teh banquet of Christ's metochoi. As Barclay says, 'It is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God.'
The parable also teaches that there are certain things that cannot be borrowed. A Christian cannot live on the association with other Christians and never personally develop intimacy with Christ. A Christian cannot borrow fellowship with God. He must possess it. We cannot substitute fellowship with other Christians for fellowship with God and assume that because we attend Bible studies and go to church that we really know Him.
Like the foolish virgins of the parable there will be some Christians who not be permitted entrance to the feast! When they seek entrance, the Lord says, 'I do not know you.' No doubt this has led many to the erroneous conclusion that they were unsaved. Christ refers to 'not knowing' the unsaved with epiginosko (Mt 7:23). The Lord used a word similar to epiginosko, ginosko, when He spoke of eternal life as being equivalent to 'knowing Him' (Jn 17:3). Here is Mt 25:12, however, the Lord does not use that word, He uses oida, on the other hand, is to know by reflection; it is a mental process based on information. In fact, it sometimes means 'respect' or 'appreciate'.
But we request of you brethren, that you appreciate [or respect, oida], those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction (1 Th 5:12).
The lexicon lists references in extra-biblical Greek where it means to 'honor.' This apparently is the sense in the parable. When the Lord says He does not know them, He means He does not appreciate, respect, or honor them. It is obvious that He knows them by observation in that He has information about who they are. The word does not mean to know in the sense of personal relationship or eternal life (i.e., ginosko). But He does not know them in the sense of honoring them as one of His co-heirs. They are not excluded from all blessing of the kingdom or even with mingling with the saved there. They are excluded only from the joy of the wedding feast and from co-heirship with Christ. The door is shut to the joy of the feast, not to entrance into the kingdom. He will not know them as the Thessalonians, knew and appreciated that faithful labor of the apostles in their midst. He will not say to them, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world' (Mt 25:34).
Finally, we might ask, Why was the servant without the wedding garment in Matt 22 permitted entrance to the wedding feast, but the foolish virgins found that the door was shut? It seems that both parables are teaching the same thing, the unfaithful Christian forfeits his inheritance in the kingdom. The distinction between the parables is accidental, and such details should not be pressed.
The parable of the virgins has nothing to do with true Christians losing their salvation. It refers to the forfeiture of honor due only to faithful servants when the Lord returns.'''