The twenty fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins like this: ‘“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise”’ (v. 1-2 ESV).
Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a very exciting story? It certainly is, and one of the things that make this parable of the wise and foolish virgins especially thrilling is that Jesus told it to his disciples as an illustration of what he had prophesied would happen at the end of days as told in Matthew chapter 24.
Even though because of the chapter headings the prophecy and parables seem to stand alone, they are really part of one continuous dialog. The parables that Jesus taught in Matthew 25 were told to illustrate the prophecy recorded in Matthew 24.
Notice that verse 1 of chapter 25 opens with the word “Then.” This indicates that Jesus is prophesying not only about his own time, but also about a future time. These parables in fact were written as a warning and admonition not only to Israel of Jesus’ day but for the Church in ours. They provide us with a roadmap for behavior as the Body of Christ in the final days of the 2000-year Church Age.
Jesus begins the parable of the wise and foolish virgins by telling us that all the virgins were going to meet the bridegroom. The Church Universal is the Bride of Christ as described in Ephesians 25:22,28b, 32: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior…He who loves his wife loves himself. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV). Therefore, the Bridegroom that the virgins in the parable were waiting for was Jesus, himself.
He recounted that the five foolish virgins had their lamps but took no oil with them, but the five wise virgins had flasks full of oil for their lamps (25:4). Proverbs 20:27 tells us that the spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, but it isn’t really the lamp itself that illuminates, but the flame, that is fed by the oil that is in the lamp. The lamp is a vessel for the oil, and the oil provides the fuel for the illuminating fire.
The Church is the vessel that is intended to be filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit that sustains the passionate flame of God’s love for his eternal Bride.
“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (Matthew 25:5-10 ESV).
The foolish virgins didn’t understand that they couldn’t “borrow” the Holy Spirit from the wise, nor could they “purchase” him in the marketplace. They had not personally received the infilling of the Holy Spirit directly from heaven, and so their lamps were going out. They couldn’t sustain the fire of their love for God “with their own oil” or in their own strength.
“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (25:11).
After the Last Supper and before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples that he would send another Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to abide with us forever. He also stated that his disciples would know the Holy Spirit because he would come to live within us, but that the world would neither receive him nor know him (John 14:16-17).
When we become fascinated by and filled with the things of the world, we don’t leave any room in our lamps for the Holy Spirit, and without his abiding presence, the blaze of God’s love cannot continuously burn within us. Our spirits are simply too weak to sustain the fiery power of his love for us. We must have the Holy Spirit, married to our spirits, so that our lamps are continuously filled with precious oil.
The parable concludes with Jesus instructing his disciples to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (v. 13).
We don’t know the day or the hour that the call will sound that the Bridegroom is coming for his Bride. But even if that call comes in the middle of a dark night, and even if we have fallen asleep while we are waiting if we are filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit, when the Light of the World calls us home we will be ready to meet him.