Who Are the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
Given by our Lord near the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse, the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 15:1-13) is one of the best known and yet least understood parables. In this parable He helps his disciples to understand the importance of prudence.

The central thought of the parable is found in Matthew 25:13, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

The Setting of the Parable

The coming of the Lord in view here is His second advent as Millennial ruler at the conclusion of the tribulation. While capable Christian teachers such as A. C. Gaebelein (The Gospel of Matthew, 1910, 225-227) have understood the virgins to be church age saints awaiting the rapture, several factors strongly suggest that the individuals in view are believing and unbelieving Israel at the Second Advent. The connecting particle “then” (25:1) ties the parable in to the day of the Second Advent of Christ (24:29-31). The church has been raptured seven years prior. The wedding has been consummated in heaven. Now the heavenly bridegroom returns to earth.

Tom Constable correctly sets the stage: “The scene in the parable is at night as the bride’s friends wait to welcome the couple and to enter the groom’s house where the banquet would begin shortly. All ten of the virgins knew that the groom’s appearing would be soon” (soniclight.org/bible study notes/Matthew/333).

The fact that the bridegroom is not coming to receive his bride but is accompanied by her is implied in a parallel passage, Luke 12:35-36, which speaks of those “that wait for their Lord, when he will return from the wedding.” That Christ is accompanied by His bride is further suggested by several ancient versions (Codex D, Vulgate and Syrian Peschito) which read in verse one that the virgins go out to “to meet the bridegroom and the bride.”

In Revelation 19:7-9, the wedding and wedding feast are introduced in relation to the bridegroom and the bride, that is the church. Here the parabolic reference is to the Jews on earth and their relationship to the bridegroom. The comments of George N. H. Peters are right to the point. The parable “shows the uncertainty of the bridegroom’s arrival and the preparedness of the company awaiting him, how it will be. . .at his future Advent, and, consequently enjoins watchfulness” (Theocratic Kingdom, III, 301).

The Context of the Parable

Sound biblical interpretation will exercise restraint and not press every detail of the parable for meaning. Each parable has one main point. In this case, it is preparedness.

(1) The ten virgins are either friends of the bride or bridegroom. The number 10 suggests completeness (Luke 19:13).

(2) The lamps suggest a testimony for the truth. All appear to have professed sound doctrine. One can still purchase in Israel Herodian lamps from the time of Christ. Their diminutive size makes it necessary to replenish the oil every two hours.

(3) The oil most likely represents the Holy Spirit, the source of our illumination and regeneration (Zech. 4:6; Acts 10:38; Heb. 1:9). The lack of oil does not suggest forgetfulness but willful neglect. All the virgins were awaiting the bridegroom.

(4) The time of midnight might be significant because it is often a time of judgment (Ex. 11:4). When the cry arose at midnight that the bridegroom was coming, the lamps of the foolish virgins had gone out and there was not enough time to purchase oil. The foolish virgins were excluded from the unspeakable bliss of the banquet to face unrelenting judgment and exclusion from the kingdom.

As in Christ’s day, some among the Jews, like Anna and Simeon were prepared for the Messiah (Luke 2) so prior to the Second Advent, some tribulation Jews will possess the oil of the Holy Spirit. Others are merely professors and without the new nature bestowed by the Holy Spirit, they will be eternally lost.

Does the parable suggest that half the Jewish people (five wise virgins) will be redeemed, the other half will face judgment and death? Not necessarily so. Perhaps a numerical relationship of saved to unsaved Jews at the Second Advent is suggested by Zechariah 13:8, which predicts that two-thirds of Israel will be cut off in judgment. Sadly, the foolish professors outnumber the wise possessors two to one.

Application of the Parable

Although strict interpretation relates the parable to the second coming of Christ, all Scripture is profitable for the church age believers (2 Tim. 3:16). Walvoord makes an excellent application of the admonition: “Just as the ten virgins will be tested by the question of a genuine work of the Spirit represented by the oil, so the professing church will be tested at the rapture. Only those baptized into Christ and regenerated by the Spirit of God will be eligible for inclusion in the heavenly union of Christ and the church” (Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 1972, 105).

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem offers a sober reminder to mere professors of salvation in any dispensation:

Late, late, so late! And dark and the night and chill!
Late, late, so late! But we can enter still.
Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.

No light had we: for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light: so late! And dark and chill the night!
O, let us in, that we may find the light.
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O, let us in, tho’ late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.

© Manfred E Kober

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