Why Jesus Gave the Parable of the “Ten Virgins”
THE best teacher is one who, when imparting a certain fact or principle of life, can illustrate it clearly and simply. Jesus Christ set the master pattern as a teacher. Accordingly, we find him teaching primarily by parables, which are prophetic illustrations using true features of life or applying principles. (Matt. 13:34, 35) There is deep significance in them.
In fact, illustrations, such as Jesus used, are generally more helpful in driving home a point, for (1) they command interest and attention, (2) they stir up the thinking ability, (3) they stir emotions and reach the heart, (4) they aid memory, and (5) they preserve the truth, because they are based on life and natural things, whereas mere words may change in meaning.
Consequently, though Jesus taught on earth more than 1,900 years ago, his teachings are not archaic, and we can understand them and get as much out of them as if they were spoken in our time. Indeed, many of them have primary application in our day.
THE PARABLE’S PURPOSE
One of Jesus’ most colorful illustrations was that of the “ten virgins.” It is also highly significant to us, particularly at this time. What was its purpose? It was given to aid Christians, especially Christians living today, to discern Christ’s presence in Kingdom power.
Jesus’ apostles had asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3) In reply, he listed many events, including several illustrations, occupying Matthew chapters 24 and 25. All those things he pointed to are features constituting the great sign of his presence, invisible, in Kingdom power.
Jesus’ parable of the “ten virgins,” recorded at Matthew 25:1-12, was given not only so that his disciples living on earth at the time of his second coming would discern his presence. Additionally, Jesus designed the parable to show them the need for watchfulness, awakeness, so as not to miss out, as did the Pharisees at Jesus’ first coming. Also, the parable points out responsibilities and duties that Christ’s disciples would have during his presence as King. (Ps. 110:3) Jesus wanted all whom God had given the “heavenly calling” to remain faithful and to achieve that marvelous goal of joint heirship with him in the Kingdom.—Heb. 3:1; Rom. 8:17; Rev. 20:4, 6.
WEDDINGS IN BIBLICAL TIMES
Since the parable of the “ten virgins” includes a marriage feast, it will be helpful first to consider a brief description of the customs observed in weddings of the time in which Jesus spoke the parable.
While the wedding itself apparently had no formal ceremony, there was, nevertheless, a very joyous celebration of weddings in Israel. On the day of the wedding, at her own home the bride usually made elaborate preparations. She prepared herself for the marriage by adorning herself with her finest garments, ornaments and jewelry. In those ancient times her ensemble included a form of veil that covered the head and, in some cases, reached to the feet. (Jer. 2:32; Isa. 3:19, 23; 49:18) This head covering symbolized the subjection of the bride to her bridegroom.—Gen. 24:65; 1 Cor. 11:5-10.
The bridegroom, likewise arrayed in his best attire, would leave his house in the evening for the home of the bride’s parents, escorted by his friends. From there the procession moved toward the home of the bridegroom or the house of his father, accompanied by musicians or singers and usually by persons bearing lamps.
The people along the route would take great interest in the procession. Some would join the procession, particularly maidens bearing lamps, lighting the way and adding color to the celebration. (Jer. 7:34; 16:9; Isa. 62:5) Since there was no hurry, the bridegroom might spend considerable time at his home and, then again, some delay might take place before the procession would leave the home of the bride, so that it would be quite late, and some persons waiting along the way might get drowsy and fall asleep. The singing and exultation could be heard quite a distance ahead, those awake hearing it crying: ‘Here is the bridegroom!’ The attendants were ready to greet the bridegroom, and those invited to the marriage supper would enter the house along with him. After the bridegroom and his entourage had gone into the house and closed the door, it was too late for tardy guests to enter.—Gen. 29:22; Matt. 22:1-3, 8.
As we consider the parable, we see how the illustration fitted the way of life of that time. It reads, as recorded at Matthew 25:1-12:
“Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep. Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered with the words, ‘Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.’ While they were going off to buy, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you.’”
WHY THE SYMBOLISM “VIRGINS” IS USED
In relating this parable, Jesus did not mention the bride. Why? Because he wanted to highlight certain aspects of the responsibilities of his spiritually begotten, anointed “brothers” while they were still on earth and before they were actually joined with him by resurrection into the heavens. He did not want to confuse the understanding of the parable’s application. Therefore he confined this illustration to picture them, not as a “bride,” but as “ten virgins.”
While on earth those anointed ones are counted as ‘promised in marriage’ to Christ, as chaste virgins. (2 Cor. 11:2, 3) The few remaining ones of this class of persons on earth now are “invited to the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.” (Rev. 19:9) The actual marriage takes place in heaven. They have not yet attained to the heavenly inheritance. The “bride” class is selected from among the “ten virgins.” As the parable shows, not all prove to be discreet. Some are foolish. The term “bride” is applied to Christ’s joint heirs as a congregation and as a heavenly body of persons eventually numbering 144,000. As individuals, whether they are male or female, they are variously called “children of God,” “brothers” of Christ and “virgins.”—1 John 3:2; Matt. 25:40; Rev. 14:1, 4; Gal. 3:28.
In what way are they “virgins”? The Bible explains. Concerning the 144,000, who are seen standing with the Lamb of God on the spiritual Mount Zion, it says: “These are the ones that did not defile themselves with women [like the religious harlot Babylon the Great, and her daughters]; in fact, they are virgins. These are the ones that keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes.” (Rev. 14:4; 17:3-5) After becoming spirit-begotten ones, having hope of reigning with Christ in the heavens, they do not commit spiritual “adultery” with this world. Consequently, these Christians do not defile themselves with the religious and political system of this world. They do not meddle or interfere in any way with politics or the operations of human governments.—2 Tim. 2:3, 4.
The position of these “virgin” Christians was clearly outlined by the apostle Paul when he wrote: “As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens, from which place also we are eagerly waiting for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will refashion our humiliated body to be conformed to his glorious body according to the operation of the power that he has, even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil. 3:20, 21) These Christians are friends of the people, calling at their homes with the good news of the Kingdom. But they are not friends of the world, that is, of the system of things of this world. The Bible severely reproves those professed Christians who would be the world’s friends, saying: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.”—Jas. 4:4; 1:27.
So those receiving the “heavenly calling” from God must ‘make the calling and choosing of them sure for themselves.’ (2 Pet. 1:10, 11) They desire to receive God’s seal of final approval before God orders the “four winds” to destroy this system of things. (Rev. 7:1-8) This requires faithful devotion on their part, becoming “patterned after the image of [God’s] Son.” (Rom. 8:29) Thus, they are like the engaged virgin girl in Israel, desirous of keeping herself clean and undefiled. They submit now while on earth to the headship of the One to whom they are promised in marriage, with a view to being glorified as his “bride” in heaven. (Col. 1:18) In ancient Israel an engaged virgin who committed fornication with another man was counted as an adulteress and was put to death. (Deut. 22:23, 24) Likewise, unfaithful ones would forfeit the hope of heavenly life for these betrothed “virgins.”—Rev. 21:7, 8.
A TIME FOR MORE THAN THE USUAL AWAKENESS
Therefore, in this strenuous time, there is a need for unusual awakeness, alertness. The apostle Paul says to such ones: “Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, you need nothing to be written to you. For you yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape. But you, brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We belong neither to night nor to darkness. So, then, let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake.”—1 Thess. 5:1-6.
It would be disastrous therefore, particularly at this time, for any of these to become spiritually sleepy, indifferent or negligent. If they should take up worldly practices, or should become lax in Kingdom-preaching, they could find themselves in the situation of an “evil slave.” Jesus said that, if such one should begin to say in his heart, “‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect . . . and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites.” (Matt. 24:48-51) Now is no time to be affiliated with spiritual “drunkards.” If anyone of these “virgins” betrothed to Christ now lives or speaks in the manner of those supporting the false religious systems of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion, he shows himself drunk along with this harlot-like system and will “receive part of her plagues.”—Rev. 17:1, 2, 6; 18:4.
So we see that Jesus’ parable of the “ten virgins” constitutes a strong warning. But there is additional meaning in this parable. How does the parable give strong guidance to God’s people today? What is the meaning of the “lamps,” the “oil,” and other symbolisms? These matters will be discussed in the next issue of this magazine.