The Parable of the Ten Virgins
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." (Matthew 25:1-13)
Matthew 25 is a continuation of our Lord's sermon on the Mount of Olives, which began in chapter twenty-four at verse three. The purpose of the sermon is to teach us that when the Lord Jesus comes again we must be ready to meet him. We must exercise diligence and care, always watching, that we may always be ready to meet the Master at his appearing. When the midnight cry is heard, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him," whether at his second advent or at death, let us be found ready. This readiness consists not in gazing idly into the heavens, but in doing the Master's will. Someone once said, "They are always ready who are always doing his will." "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing" (24:46).
A wife may watch for her husband because she is anxious to see him, but a good and faithful wife will have the house cleaned and dinner prepared. She has been anxiously watching for her husband as she performed her daily responsibilities. Her watchfulness is readiness. That is the kind of watchfulness and readiness with which we are to look for our Savior.
This twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew is divided into three parts. All three sections have a definite reference to the second coming of Christ. In the parable of the ten virgins (vv. 1-13) our Lord uses his second coming as an argument for watchfulness, showing us the necessity of heart faith, heart worship, and heart obedience. In the parable of the talents (vv. 14-30) our Savior uses his second coming as an argument for diligence and faithfulness. In verses 31-46 our Lord concludes his sermon with a description of the great and terrible Day of Judgment, and does so in language of unparalleled greatness and beauty.
The parable of the Ten Virgins contains lessons that are peculiarly solemn, which ought to awaken and stir our souls. The five wise virgins represent all true believers and the five foolish virgins represent all professed believers, who are yet without the grace of God.
A Mixed Multitude
First, our Lord is teaching us that his church and kingdom in this world is always a mixture of believers and unbelievers. I do not mean that any are to be received into the fellowship of the church who do not personally profess faith in Christ. That must never be done. But our Lord constantly taught us that in his visible church, in his earthly kingdom, there are both true believers and those who merely profess to be believers. The ten virgins represent these two groups.
We must never be surprised to find goats among the Lord's sheep, tares among the wheat, bad fish mixed with the good, foolish builders alongside the wise, and hypocrites mingled with true believers. That has always been the case, and always shall be. And we must never try to separate the bad from the good. That is God's business. We do not know the one from the other. If we try to separate them, we will throw out the good and keep the bad every time (Matt. 13:28-30). Yet, we must not be too surprised and disappointed when God separates the bad from the good (1 John 2:19).
After all our preaching and praying, witnessing and visiting, teaching and exhortation, after all the missionary endeavors expended abroad and all the labors put forth at home, in the last day, when the Lord Jesus comes again, many will be found inside the walls of Zion who are dead in trespasses and sins! It is horrible to be found in the streets of Sodom without Christ; but it will be indescribably more horrible to be found in Zion without him!
Read this parable and be warned. All these virgins had lamps of profession; but only five had the oil of grace in their lamps. It is one thing to be baptized, but something else to be baptized into Christ. It is one thing to have a profession of faith in Christ, but another thing altogether to have the grace of Christ. It is one thing to wear the Master's name, but something else to have his nature. It is one thing to be in Christ's church, but another thing altogether to be in Christ. It is one thing to be religious, but another thing to be righteous. It is one thing to sing about the blood, and another thing entirely to be washed in the blood.
All ten of these virgins were outwardly moral, pure and upright; but only five were made righteous in Christ. A mere outward righteousness will be of absolutely no benefit to your soul in the day of judgment. We must be washed in the blood of Christ, forgiven of all our sins (Heb. 9:22). We must be robed in Christ's spotless robe of perfect righteousness (Rev. 21:27; 22:11).
All ten of the virgins went out to meet the Bridegroom. The wise separated themselves from family and friend, but so did the foolish. The wise professed to trust, love and follow Christ, but so did the foolish. The difference was that the wise had an inward principle of grace, while the foolish had nothing but a name, a profession, and an outward show of religion. Let us make our calling and election sure. We must have a God-given, heart faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). We must be born again by God the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). We must have Christ formed in us, being made "partakers of the divine nature," or we have no hope of everlasting salvation (Col. 1:27; 2 Pet. 1:4).
Second, we learn from this parable that both the wise and the foolish will be taken by surprise at Christ's second coming. Both the wise and the foolish shall be found asleep. While the bridegroom tarried, that is, while waiting in the ordinances of divine worship, they all slumbered and slept. The Church of God describes herself in such a sad condition, saying, "I sleep, but my heart waketh" (Song 5:2). But the sleep of God's saints is not the sleep of spiritual death. Rather, it is a deadness that causes lamentation. The sleep of the foolish virgins is the sleep of spiritual death, the sleep of those who have never been awakened from being "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1-5). Without question, there is a vast and vital difference between the two. The believer sleeps, but his heart wakes (Song 5:2), while the unbeliever sleeps the sleep of death in carnal ease. Because both "slumbered and slept," both the wise and the foolish were surprised when their lord appeared.
I know that we are commanded to watch, always to watch and be ready. That is our responsibility. That is what I want to stir up in you and in myself. But our Lord plainly teaches us that at the last day, when he comes again, all ten virgins, both the righteous and the wicked, both the true believer and the carnal professor will be asleep. When Christ comes again, he will find the great majority of mankind unbelieving and unprepared; and he will find the vast majority of his own people, his true saints, in a state of slothfulness, indolence and sleep. Business, politics, farming, buying, selling, and pleasure seeking will consume the care and attention of men; just as they do now. The Lord Jesus, when he comes again, will find his church in the very same state as the angels found Lot in Sodom, asleep in the lap of the world. "There is something unspeakably awful in the idea," wrote J.C. Ryle, "but thus it is written, and thus it shall be." One of God's servants long ago described the church today, as well as the church of his own day, when, on his deathbed, the faithful pastor said to those gathered around him, "We are none of us more than half awake."
Third, this parable teaches us that our Lord tarries his coming. I was once asked by a friend, "Is it right to say, 'If the Lord tarries?'" I suspect it is. That is the language our Lord used to describe his physical absence. — "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (v. 5). The fact that our Lord is not yet here is proof enough that he tarries.
But do not imagine that he tarries haphazardly. He tarries for a purpose. The Lord tarries to exercise our patience. He tarries to arouse our desires after him. Our Savior tarries to gather in his elect (2 Pet. 3:9; Rom. 11:25-26). He tarries that the mystery of iniquity may be fulfilled (2 Thess. 2:7). Our Lord tarries to accomplish his Father's purpose (Rom. 8:28-30).
Fourth, when our Lord does come, many will discover the value of heart faith, heart worship, and heart obedience; but they will discover it too late. The virgins all went forth with their lamps to meet the bridegroom, to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of his Church. They went forth to meet him with a profession of faith in him. The foolish took their lamps, but had no oil. What multitudes will be found like them when Christ comes! They have a profession of faith, but no oil of grace. They have religion, but not Christ. They are yet without life, without the Spirit of God, without Christ, and lost. Yet, they are ignorant of their own lost estate before God. Though professing faith in Christ, they know nothing of his saving power and grace in their hearts. Whereas the wise, having been made wise unto salvation, know their need of Christ and earnestly seek him.
"The foolish virgins, destitute of all vital godliness, unawakened, unregenerated, unacquainted with the plague of their own heart, and ignorant of the person, work, and glory of Christ; in all his saving offices, characters, and relations; and having nothing but a lamp of profession, were found in utter darkness, at the Lord's approach. While on the contrary, the wise virgins being furnished with the oil of grace, under the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, and brought into an union with Christ, and communion in all that belonged to Christ, in regenerating, converting, justifying, and sanctifying mercy; thus prepared by the Lord, for the knowledge and enjoyment of the Lord; arise with holy joy, at the bridegroom's coming, and enter with him into the marriage and the door is shut." Robert Hawker
The parable tells us that when the bridegroom came, the foolish virgins said to the wise, "Give us of your oil," or "our lamps have gone out." The wise virgins told them to go buy oil for themselves. But while they were gone, the bridegroom came, and they were shut out. Then their opinion was drastically changed. Then they would have given anything in the world for true, vital godliness, anything for Christ. There is much to be learned from this. Let me just mention two or three things that must be understood by all.
True Christianity is a personal thing. No one can trust Christ for you, secure the grace of God for you, or convey grace to you. If you would be saved, you must seek the Lord.
The oil of grace can be bought (Isa. 55:1-7). C. H. Spurgeon wrote, "There is a proper place where the oil can be bought at the right time: we are bidden to 'buy the truth,' grace is sold in God's market on gospel terms, 'without money and without price;' but when the midnight cry is heard, the day of grace has closed, and buying and selling are over for ever."
But true, saving faith is more than a decision for Jesus. If faith is simply deciding to get saved, these foolish virgins would have been saved with the wise. They decided to get some oil, but could not. Saving faith is the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit, by which our souls are wed to Christ.
Fifth, this parable teaches us that when Christ comes, the door will be shut and sinners shall be shut out of his kingdom forever. The door is open now. Sinners are bidden and urged to enter into the kingdom of God by the door, Christ Jesus; but soon the door will be shut.
In that great day, all true believers shall receive a great reward of grace (v. 10). Those who are ready shall be carried away to glory to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Those who are ready are those who are washed in the Savior's blood, robed in his righteousness, and born again by his Holy Spirit.
All mere professors of religion shall be cast away into hell with the rest of the damned, as those who are unknown to the Son of God (v. 12). The foolish virgins professed to be the bridegroom's beloved, but proved at last not even to have been acquainted with him. They represent all the multitudes of lost religionists in every age, who wear the name of Christ, but have neither part nor lot in his great salvation.
When the Master says, "I know you not," his meaning is, "You are not the object of my love and care. I never chose you. I do not approve of you. I will not accept you."
When Christ comes again, the door will be shut forever. What a blessing this will be for God's elect! The door shall at last be shut, shut upon all sickness, sorrow, sin and pain; shut upon a tempting world; shut upon a roaring devil; shut upon all doubts and fears; shut upon bereavement and death; shut never to be opened again! What terror this will be for the wicked! The door shall be shut upon all mercy, love, grace, righteousness, happiness, life and joy; shut forever, shutting you out from God and his kingdom!
Are you a wise or a foolish virgin? Let us constantly prod our hearts and souls, lest we sleep (v. 13; l Thess. 5:6-9).