8. Summary: Wise and Foolish Virgins
The chapter division between Matthew 24 and 25 is unfortunate. The description of the rejected at the judgment given in Mt. 24:51 is followed straight on by Matthew 25:1: "Then shall the kingdom of heaven (i.e. entry into it) be likened unto ten virgins...". This may suggest that the rejected will have time for reflection - then they will see the 'likeness' between their position and the parable of the virgins. This parable follows that of the negligent steward who will be rejected at the judgment (Matt. 24:45), implying that a lack of proper spiritual care by the elders of the latter-day ecclesias results in the lack of oil in the lamps of the rejected.
There can be little doubt that the parable is intended to have a specific latter-day application. The virgins "took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom" (Mt. 25:1), but settled down to slumber due to his unexpected delay. Then "at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" (Matt. 25:6). Obviously there is a general application of the parable to all believers who at the time of their baptism have oil in their lamps - which needs continual topping up by our freewill effort. The whole of the believer's probation should therefore be in the spirit of a journey to the judgment / wedding, believing that Christ is at the door. The 'arising' of the virgins in Matt. 25:7 would then refer to the resurrection.
"The time is fulfilled..."
However, a more detailed interpretation is possible when the parable is applied to the last days. The virgins going forth to meet Christ more comfortably fits the scene of the time of the second coming. The parable would suggest that after this first definite intimation of the Lord's return there is a period of unexpected delay before the midnight cry is made. This great cry presumably equates with the "shout" of 1 Thess. 4:17 at the Lord's return and the resurrection. From this it follows that the faithful will have a separate gathering to judgment than the unworthy; Christ "shall gather together his elect" (Mt. 24:31), the unworthy then wish to be with those who have oil, putting their noses in a Bible for a change, and then come to the judgment. The wise trim their lamps and go to meet Jesus. The same Greek word translated 'trim' is rendered 'adorned' in Rev. 21:2, concerning the bride of Christ (the wise virgins) "coming down from God out of Heaven (a literal descent from the sky, having been snatched away in clouds?), prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). The intimation that the second coming is imminent could be due to a number of factors:
- The open presence of 'Elijah'. The cry of the watchman would be in the spirit of the Elijah prophet.
- The possible possession of the miraculous spirit gift by the Elijah ministry.
- The onset of active persecution
- The Arab domination of Israel
- Possibly the appearance of a literal sign in the heavenly bodies heralding the Lord's coming; the sign of the Son of man.
"The bridegroom tarried" (Mt. 25:5) uses the same Greek word as in Mt. 24:48, "My Lord delayeth his coming". The bridegroom/Lord will delay - what was wrong with that statement was the attitude with which it was made. The implication is 'The Lord's definitely delaying, so I have ample opportunity to indulge in worldliness and take out all my grievances against my brethren'. It would seem that the holocaust period (3.5 years?) follows the intimation that the Lord's coming is imminent. The spiritual high that all the believers will have at the time of this intimation is indicated by all the virgins initially having enough oil. However, the ensuing holocaust period will be a time of strife within the ecclesia, the stewards beating the fellowservants, the oil (i.e. true spirituality developed by the word) running low. Present trends amongst us indicate that if the community were highly pressurised, such a scenario could quickly occur. Thus the position in spiritual Israel will match that among Jewry.
At this juncture it is necessary to define more closely what the oil represents. The ten virgins each having lamps may connect with the parable of the ten servants each having the talents of the true knowledge of God (Luke 19:13). Those who were "wise" had oil in their lamps; our Lord earlier defined "the wise" as those who truly obeyed the word (Mt. 7:24). By contrast, the "foolish" without oil are those who only superficially respond to it (Mt. 7:26). The parable of the talents following on from that of the oil lamps suggests that the talents - symbolic of our appreciation and application of the word - are to be equated with the oil. Those whose spiritual lamps go out during the tribulation "took no oil with them" after the first intimation that the second coming is about to occur (Mt. 25:3). Thus they will rely on the feeling of hope that this intimation gives rather than on the continual study of the word during the delay period. These contrasting attitudes are perhaps hinted at by the wise taking their oil first, then their lamps; whilst the foolish grabbed their lamps but discounted the need for more oil (Mt. 25:3,4). Thus those who presume too much upon their own personal worthiness, thinking that they are spiritually in "peace and safety" (1 Thess. 5:3), fail to properly apply themselves to the oil of the word.
Sleep And Slumber
Both wise and foolish "all slumbered and slept" (Mt. 25:5). This slumbering can only be seen in a bad light. The exhortation at the end of the parable is to "watch", i.e. to keep awake rather than be sleepy (Mt. 25:13). We have earlier commented on the many parallels between 1 Thess. 5 and Matt. 24 and 25. 1 Thess. 5:2,6,7 speaks of the unworthy in the last days as being surprised by the midnight coming of Christ due to their being asleep. Their being "drunken in the night" (1 Thess. 5:7) matches the similar description of the weak elements of the latter-day ecclesias in Matt. 24:49. And yet 1 Thess. 5 goes on in this context to say that Christ died for us so that whether we wake or sleep, we may be accepted with Him. This is positivism beyond measure; He wants to save even those who slumber.
"Let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess. 5:6) matches our Lord's "Watch, therefore" (Mt. 25:13). This command to watch seems to have a conscious connection with the Lord's urgent plea to the sleepy disciples in Gethsemane to "watch and pray" (Mt. 26:38), indicating that they at that time typify the latter day believers; about to fellowship their Lord's sufferings during the holocaust period, confused, failing to see the urgency of the situation. The disciples doubtless started to obey their Lord's command to watch and pray, but then drifted off into sleep. Watching and praying are often associated; a real knowing of God through dynamic prayer is the real way to be watchful for the second coming. The foolish virgins realize this all too late; they knocked on the door with great zeal, asking for it to be opened; seeking but not finding. Knocking is sometimes used as a figure for prayer (Mt. 7:7). The basis for these foolish virgins is surely in Prov. 1:28,29: "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer...they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge". Having a laid back attitude to developing a real knowledge of the Lord through the oil of the word is therefore effectively hating knowledge.
Candles In The wind
Apparently the "lamps" which the parable is based upon had to be replenished every 15 minutes or else they went out. The "wise" - relative to the foolish, anyway - can therefore be pictured as dozing for five or 10 minutes, then jolting back into consciousness and refilling their lamps, while the foolish snored on. This presents a powerful picture of the frail spirituality which will characterise the faithful remnant just prior to the second coming. The Lord asks the faithful remnant to "look up, and lift up your heads" (Lk. 21:28) when the signs of the last days just begin to come to pass. There seems a designed connection with this parable of the virgins, spoken only minutes later: in actual fact, he foresaw that even at his coming, even the faithful would be sleeping. Even now our real faith is but as candles in the wind. There is an urgent need for us each to analyse and appreciate what real spirituality is, to spotlight the few times and ways in which we show it, and to work on these. Such self-knowledge and realisation will be worth its weight in diamonds during the delay period.
This said, it will ultimately be the midnight cry which reveals our true spiritual state to us. Each virgin arose and with heightened awareness analyzed the state of their oil. The wise will have the faith to quickly prepare themselves to meet Christ - they "trimmed their lamps", pulling out the burnt strands in the wick and adding oil. The foolish panic - "Give us of your oil"! In that moment it will be evident to all in the ecclesia who has been wise and who foolish.
Those who have consistently dashed through their Bible reading, or skipped it completely, will then realize their folly; the parable even suggests that they desperately try to associate themselves with those they know to be spiritually strong, somehow hoping that they might be covered by their spirituality. "Our lamps are going out" (Mt. 25:8 R.V.) shows that they are not totally without oil, but they feel the oil - what faith they had - ebbing away as the reality of Christ's return and the judgment dawns upon them.
"Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves" (Mt. 25:9) may well be obeyed by the foolish in the form of getting their noses down to some serious, personal Bible study for a change. The point has to be made that there appears to be a frightening lack of this kind of oil-gathering amongst a considerable section of our community. "Go...and buy" is surely rhetorical- the rejected know it's too late for them to actually rectify their position, but the process of judgment day will show the rejected how it would have been possible to enter the Kingdom . Likewise the Lord will tell the one talent man: 'Why didn't you, for example, put the money into the bank...?'.
Loving His appearing
The foolish virgins, for all their initial spiritual confidence shown by not taking oil with them, lacked that true love for Christ's appearing which enabled the wise to immediately go forth to meet him. This accords with the description of the righteous as opening the door immediately in response to the 'knock' of the second coming (Lk 12:36). "Lord, Lord, open to us" (Mt. 25:11) being met with the response "I know you not", connects with an earlier picture of the rejected at judgment day: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not...in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you" (Mt. 7:22,23). Thus there is the implication that when the foolish virgins delay their going to meet Christ, they amass a list of "many wonderful works" which they hope will impress their Lord. This would explain the indignation of the rejected at Christ's rebuke of their lack of suitable works (Mt. 25:41-45). These people would probably not have appeared reprobates in this life; works are so impressive to ones' fellow believers. Jesus did not tell this parable about five hookers and five virgins; all of them were 'virgins' in the parable, having an appearance of purity from being in Christ.
By contrast, "the wise", whose love for Christ makes them respond immediately to the call, are unconscious of their works of faith (Mt. 25:35-40). "Lord, open to us" is therefore to be read as a confident demand by the unworthy for entry into the Kingdom, based upon trust in their "wonderful works". "I know you not" is paralleled with a lack of oil. Through our correct response to the oil of the Word, our Lord knows us. The rejected will have done many works for Christ without really knowing Him. Having insufficient oil in their lamps, they have but a semi-spirituality rather than a total dearth of oil. Only by a personal knowledge of our Lord, through having the oil of His Spirit and His word in our hearts, can we be accepted.