One of the most vexing parables recorded in the New Testament is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Found in Matthew 25 and given as the answer to eschatological questions from the disciples, Jesus states:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the
bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
The parable is a sister of the one that follows, which is the Parable of the Talents, sometimes called the Parable of the Bags of Gold. In this parable Jesus describes a master who leaves on a journey and entrusts his riches to three of his servants:
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.28
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”
These two tales may seem disparate, but they both paint a vivid picture of what it will look like to be held to account for tasks left undone on Earth in the absence of a corporeal Jesus.
Living through the first global pandemic in the past hundred years has caused some drastic changes in the lives of most people. Among other effects, for me, it has caused introspection, and helped me examine my spirituality. The pandemic brought me face to face with not only my own mortality, but that of my loved ones and even my children. One result of that was that I became much more open and fearless about sharing my faith. One of the ways I did that was to share several parts of my testimony here on my blog. You can read them here, here, and here. But I also delved deep within my own heart to do a soul check up of sorts. If I’m close to meeting my maker, what will I say to Him? Will He accept me into open arms, or will he call me a worthless servant? Will he say, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”?
Being stuck in the house for so long during quarantine just marinating in fear of the unknown left me nearly insane after a while, and one day I set out on a solitary walk to clear my head. I wondered where all this was leading, are we living through Revelation 6 with pestilence being poured out upon the earth? One thing the bible was perfectly clear about on the subject of the second coming of Christ is that literally no one knows when it will happen except for God, it was even kept secret from Jesus. So knowing that I can’t know if this is the end or not, it seemed wise to prepare for the possibility it was, and the parables were stuck in my head, I was walking, listening to Matthew 25 and wondering about how I can avoid being a worthless servant or a foolish virgin. While the Parable of the Talents seemed pretty straightforward to me, (God gives each person gifts, we are to use those gifts to bring people to Him. People who fail to do that because of fear, are worthless servants.) However the parable of the ten virgins was so perplexing to me.
Since reading Jeff Vanderstelt’s Gospel Fluency, I have begun to pray for wisdom and courage, both to better understand the gospel and to have the fearlessness to share it. I continued to ponder the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and today an interpretation occurred to me. I may be 100% wrong on this, but so far it is the only idea that makes sense to me.
The common interpretation is that Jesus is the bridegroom and the virgins are Christians. However, if the church is the bride of Christ, as it is widely accepted to be, then the virgins must be churches, not individual Christians.
So what is the oil? How can it be bought? Oil is a substance that feeds the flame of the lamps that give the virgins light, to illuminate their path so they may be part of the wedding procession. Light is a common metaphor in the bible, often used to signify truth and goodness. The word of God is a light, (Psalm 119:105) Jesus is called “the light of the world” (John 9:5) and Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) refers to Jesus as “the sun” who comes to Earth “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79). Before His crucifixion, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as a guide, much the same way a lamp guides the path of its holder. (John 16:13). So from this we can assume that we need Jesus (light) to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and the oil that fuels the light of the world, what is that?
It is other people.
In Matthew 5 Jesus called us (Christians) the light of the world, which we became after His death, resurrection, and ascension. We keep the light burning by bringing others to know Christ. Your brothers and sisters who are unbelievers, they are the oil. Unlit, oil is dormant, pure potential. All it takes is one spark to light oil ablaze, and once it is lit, it can ignite more oil.
In the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus is asking churches to go and purchase more souls. The blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to pay the price for the sins of every soul ever born on earth. He says it with a sense of urgency, do it now before it’s too late.