We are part of the kingdom of heaven but do we really know anything about it? Jesus taught frequently about the kingdom but He did so through encoded parables. He did this for some “because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.” The eyes of others, however, “are blessed because they do see, and [their] ears because they do hear” (Matthew 13:13, 16). I want to be one of the blessed who sees and hears the messages of His parables!
Some of Jesus’ many parables are referred to as kingdom parables. They begin with either the phrase kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God, depending on which gospel you read. I wrote extensively about seven of them from Matthew 13 in the book “Everything We Need: God's Path to Know Him Better.” However, space didn’t permit me to examine all of them. So, here we are – considering them on the Grow Barefoot blog!
We’ve already looked at the parables of the unmerciful servant, the workers in the vineyard, and the wedding banquet. If you haven’t read the article on the parable of the wedding banquet yet, I encourage you to do so before finishing this article. The imagery in this parable of the ten virgins is the same as the parable of the wedding banquet.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
Matthew records this story in Matthew 25:1-13. Just prior, throughout Matthew 24, Jesus described the events of the end times in detail. That context is important to remember as we read the first line of this parable. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1). All of the kingdom parables begin with wording similar to this. With this parable, though, the verb tense shifts from present tense to future tense. This shift is also seen in the opening “At that time” as it says in the New International Version. At that time – the time of the tribulation that Jesus just spoke about – the kingdom of heaven will be like… Like what?
Some aspect of this parable is going to reveal something about the kingdom of heaven that will be different at that time than it is now.
Set the Stage
Some translations use the word bridesmaids instead of virgins; either way, they are a group of women who wait with the bride until her groom comes and then walk in the processional from the bride’s home to the wedding banquet. They carried lamps – although a better understanding would be torches – to help light the way for the procession.
In Jesus’ story, the bridegroom came so late during the night that the bridesmaids fell asleep. When they awoke, their torches had burned out. Five of them were prepared with more oil to relight their torch but five were unprepared. The prepared women didn’t have enough to also share with those who were unprepared so the unprepared women had to go find more oil. By the time they had done so, it was too late. The groom had already come for his bride, the procession to the wedding banquet was finished, and the banquet door locked.
Who are the ten virgins?
This is when I’m hoping you’ve already read my thoughts on the parable of the wedding banquet. Just like there, this wedding-themed parable doesn’t mention the bride. Like we also saw there, the unmentioned bride is symbolic of the church. The bridegroom, of course, is Jesus Himself. The bridesmaids have to symbolize a group of people who are invited to the wedding of the Lamb but aren’t the bride or the bridegroom. Again, just as in the parable of the wedding banquet, this would have to apply to believers outside the timeline of the church – either before or after.
John the Baptist referred to himself as the friend – the attendant, if you will – of the bridegroom in John 3:29. He is one, like our bridesmaids, who listened for the voice of the coming groom and rejoiced upon hearing it. The bridesmaids of our parable perform that same job and, like John the Baptist, are believers from outside the church era.
If you’re a number person like me, you may wonder why Jesus specified ten bridesmaids. Why not three, seven, or eleven? I’ve found that when a number is specifically included in Scripture, it’s significant. Otherwise, Jesus could have just said, “the kingdom of heaven will be like virgins who took their lamps.” The number ten in the Bible signifies a portion that represents a whole. For example, the Ten Commandments are a portion of the law but used to represent the whole law. We give a tithe (tenth) as an offering to represent a portion of our whole possessions used to serve God. In this parable, the ten virgins are a portion representing the whole group of believers who come to Christ during the tribulation.
What’s the deal with the oil?
Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture. All ten bridesmaids began with oil; unfortunately, some ran out. If the Holy Spirit seals us at the time of salvation – He can’t leave us once we’ve placed faith in Christ as our Savior – then how did some of the women run out? Here’s where we have to remember that this parable began with the future tense.
The Holy Spirit seals members of the church – the bride of Christ. Scripture doesn’t make that promise to believers outside of the timeline of the church. For example, the Spirit came upon King Saul in the Old Testament but He also left again (1 Samuel 16). If you’re familiar with Daniel’s 70 Weeks (Daniel 9:24-27), you know the last week hasn’t yet occurred. God reserved it for a future time also known as the tribulation – a seven year period immediately prior to the Second Coming of Christ. I believe one reason God gave Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks was to link the way things worked in the Old Testament and the way they will work during the Tribulation. The time of the church divides the two time periods.
So, in other words, the Spirit may no longer permanently seal believers who accept Christ during the tribulation. A person may have the Spirit at one point – they have oil in their lamp – but then later, they may not – they run out of oil.
So What’s the Point?
Jesus sums up the point at the end of His parable. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13). Be ready because when the Bridegroom comes, it’s too late. This parable may speak directly to believers at that time – the time of the tribulation – but we can learn from it as well.
Even though those who accept Christ now rest in the security of their salvation, time will eventually run out for the church as well. We also don’t know when the rapture will occur and the tribulation will start. We can’t know how long we can safely put off accepting Christ as our Savior before it’s too late. Prepare now; be ready now. Don’t wait and also find out that you put it off too long. Click here to read more about what it means to accept Christ.
Click here for a free, downloadable study on more of the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven.