Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus spoke the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). This parable is a sobering warning about conditions that will exist in the Church at the end of the age. Its target audience is the generation that will see the return of Jesus Christ! And it is linked with prophecies about the last days that are coming to pass today (cf. Matthew 24–25).
But just how does this parable relate to us, especially as we meditate upon the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Many mainstream “Christians” assume that Christ spoke in parables to clarify the meaning of His teachings, yet Scripture reveals just the opposite (Matthew 13:10–17). The Bible indicates that God has hidden the true understanding of Scripture from the world, but that He reveals this vital information through His Spirit to those He is calling (1 Corinthians 2:7–16). Those willing to be led by the Holy Spirit will search out and understand the real meaning of Scripture. As we reflect on the lessons of Pentecost, we should ask ourselves: What can we learn from the parable of the ten virgins? What lessons relevant to us today can we draw from this parable?
Five Wise, Five Foolish
We first need to ask, Who are the ten virgins? The parable pictures ten virgins who go out to meet a bridegroom, who pictures Jesus Christ. We in God’s Church recognize that the Feast of Pentecost pictures Christ’s firstfruits in this age receiving the Holy Spirit prior to the vast majority of humanity. The parable of the ten virgins, however, reveals something very sobering about true Christians; many will, in fact, be shocked and disappointed to discover that they did not properly use the Holy Spirit. They will find out, to their chagrin, that they never truly acted on what their Savior asked of them, and that they will not receive the reward they anticipated—because they did not learn vital lessons contained in this parable.
We are told that five of the virgins were wise, and five were foolish. But just what does it mean to be wise? What does it mean to be foolish? How does the Bible define these terms? Jesus explains that the wise are those who not only listen to His teachings, but actually follow those teachings (Matthew 7:24–27). Jesus defines a foolish person as one who hears but does not follow the word of God! Foolish people concoct excuses as to why the commandments and instructions of Scripture no longer apply to us today.
The book of Proverbs provides additional definitions. A wise person fears to disobey God’s word—and seeks knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Proverbs 4:4–9; 9:10). By contrast, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7)—they are not willing to put forth the effort required to obtain these important needs. A wise person will seek advice and listen to correction (Proverbs 10:8), but fools ignore advice and resent correction (14:16). A fool reacts to situations with immediate anger, yet a wise person ignores insults and exercises self-control (Proverbs 12:16). Fools are always right in their own eyes and are fully convinced about their own opinions, while a wise person is willing to listen to counsel (Proverbs 12:15; 28:26). A wise person looks ahead, anticipates where decisions and actions will lead, and strives to avoid making mistakes—but fools fail to anticipate the consequences of their actions and repeatedly wind up in trouble (Proverbs 22:3). Our choice of friends also influences what we become, as he “who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).
This part of the parable reminds us to discern the category into which our actions place us! Are we seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit and to follow God’s revealed instructions, or are we continually trying to “reason” around Scripture so we can do our own thing? The fact that this parable says half of the virgins were making foolish decisions should grab our attention and serve as a warning to us as we approach the end of this age!
We Need Oil!
The parable describes that the foolish virgins took no oil for their lamps, but that the wise took an extra supply while they waited for the bridegroom to come. Commentaries offer various ideas about what the oil symbolizes (e.g. grace or good deeds), yet the Bible indicates that oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. When Saul and David were chosen as kings of Israel, Samuel anointed them with oil and “the Spirit of the Lord” came upon them (1 Samuel 10:1–6; 16:13). The Bible states clearly that if we want to be in the Kingdom of God, we must bring forth fruits (Matthew 3:8; John 15:1–8). Galatians 5:22–26 lists the fruits of the Spirit, which God wants us to display. These include love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. Those with the Holy Spirit are reasonable and easily entreated (James 3:17). Other prominent fruits of the Spirit include a sound, discerning mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Those who lack these fruits become impatient, will not listen to input, will focus on themselves, will let go of their faith, will compromise in disobedience, and will fail to discern truth from error. They allow their supply of oil—God’s Spirit—to run low and become exhausted.
The Holy Spirit is dynamic; it ebbs and flows in our lives, depending on how we take care of it and use it. This is why Paul admonished Timothy to “stir up the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). We are also warned, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We stir up God’s Spirit through regular prayer, Bible study, fasting, biblical meditation, and striving to exercise the fruits of that Spirit—acting in a loving and patient manner when our normal tendency would be to fly off the handle! This is what it means to be “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14). If we are led by the Holy Spirit, we are children of God and heirs with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14–17). God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Without God’s Spirit, we are not really Christians (Romans 8:9). If we let our oil supply run low, the fruits of God’s Spirit will not be evident in our lives and we will not be ready to meet Christ when He returns. We will have foolishly wasted our opportunity to be in the first resurrection as firstfruits! This is another vital lesson we can learn from the parable of the ten virgins. When was the last time we checked our oil?
Delays and Distractions
One of the most important aspects of this parable is its description of what happened when the bridegroom delayed his coming. Down through the ages, many have tried to predict when Christ would return. Christ’s first disciples initially thought that He would return in their time (Luke 19:11), even though His words revealed that there would be a long wait (Matthew 24:45–51; 25:5, 14, 19). What we do during that time of waiting reveals much about our conviction and depth of conversion. Most people are flushed with enthusiasm when they first learn the truth—an enthusiasm that too often fades. Jesus warned that some would ignore and break the commandments—and would slip back into self-indulgent worldly ways (Matthew 24:45– 51). He also warned that some would stumble and give up the faith as a result of trials and persecution, while others would veer off course in the pursuit of wealth and temporary worldly pleasures (Matthew 13:18– 23).
The recent history of the Church of God is instructive in this regard. For the first few decades of Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s ministry, many thought that Christ would likely return in the 1970s. When that did not happen, some began to drift off into their own religious endeavors. Mr. Armstrong long expected that Christ would return during his lifetime. When he died and Christ had not returned, some began to question whether Mr. Armstrong might have been wrong on many other issues. The ensuing doctrinal disputes and changes led to splits and more fragmentation. Today, many have learned the wrong lessons from those trials—choosing to reject clear commandments and instructions of the Bible, and now believing that all that is necessary is to “love the Lord and believe in Jesus.”
Many scattered in these directions because Jesus Christ did not return when many expected He would. Our challenge, and another lesson of this parable, is to hold on to the truth and to our convictions—not to our “expectations”—and to do the Work zealously and with commitment, as Christ commanded, until He returns! The Bible warns us that, once we have made a commitment to Him, we are not fit for the Kingdom of God if we look back and dwell on what might have been or what we may have “missed” (Luke 9:62). Are we focused on the goal of the Kingdom? Are we wallowing in nostalgia for what we gave up? This parable should be a wake-up call!
Don’t Be Spiritually Asleep!
Do you recognize the significance of the times in which we are living? Are you aware of specific prophecies being fulfilled, almost daily, right in front of your eyes? Or have you been lulled to spiritual sleep by those mainstream “Christians” who say that all prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus and that Old Testament prophecies are not relevant to the beliefs of today’s Christians?
Do you recognize where the Work of God is being done today? Who is really teaching according to Scripture (Isaiah 8:20) and drawing closer to God, and who is changing doctrines to water down the truth? Who is preaching the true Gospel that Jesus and the Apostles preached (Mark 1:14–15), and who is preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1:6–9)? Who is warning the world of the prophetic significance of today’s news events as Christ did (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), and who is deceptively preaching in Christ’s name (Matthew 24:5) about another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:1–4)? Can you identify those who are wolves out to divide and devour the flock of God? Can you discern those afflicted with a Laodicean attitude? We need to be able to recognize the “midnight cry” when we hear it, because God’s servants will be actively involved in delivering this warning (cf. Isaiah 58:1; Ezekiel 2; 3; 33). However, Satan also has his own false and deceived ministers active at the end of the age! They will deceive many who have begun to spiritually slumber! We cannot afford to spiritually sleep at this crucial time in history (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6)!
How Full Is Your Lamp?
The lamps of the ten virgins illustrate another important lesson. The lamps of the wise virgins who brought oil were burning brightly. Filled with oil, these lamps were able to be a light to the world, fulfilling Christ’s expectations for His chosen disciples (Matthew 5:13–16). If we are nourishing the Holy Spirit we have been given, others will see in our lives the fruits of love, obedience, faith, and good works. Regrettably, the lamps of the foolish virgins were going out because they were running out of oil. If we begin to compromise the truth of God and begin to ignore or disobey His laws and instructions, we begin to lose the Spirit of God. The fruits of the Spirit will begin to disappear and will be replaced by self-centered thoughts and actions that are often vain and ugly (Galatians 5:19–21). Sexual sins, arguments, heresies, and divisions will thrive, and unity will evaporate in congregations and families (1 Corinthians 1:10–17). Individuals who let their lamps decline into this condition will not fulfill their calling to become firstfruits in God’s Kingdom and will not be able to participate in the wedding after Christ returns! This is a serious warning! We need to discern whether our lamps are burning brightly or going out—if we are not sure, we can ask others what they see. Most importantly, we must ask God to show us the condition of our lamps, and be ready to listen for His answer.
Our Character, Our Responsibility
A particularly sobering lesson of this parable is that whatever amount of faith, courage, character, conviction, preparedness, good works, or degree of conversion someone achieves, we cannot borrow or share what someone else has developed! We are responsible for ourselves and for using God’s Spirit to work with Him in building our own character. And that character will be tested by trials, temptations, and difficulties. If it stands the test, we will be rewarded wonderfully, but our reward will be diminished—and can even be lost—if the character we build fails the test. So, how we build that character and the materials with which we build are very important. We must build carefully and choose our beliefs and actions wisely!
In this regard, we each need to ask some very personal questions. Have I found the truth? Has my mind been opened to understanding that truth? Few today are being given the special opportunity that we are being given (Matthew 13:10–17; John 6:44, 65).
Have you invested heavily—of your heart, mind, and energies—in this “pearl of great price” that God has offered you (Matthew 13:44–46), or do you have “itching ears” that move you to “heap up” teachers of your own choosing, who teach fables disguised as “truth” (2 Timothy 4:3– 4)? Have you carefully proven what you believe, or do you follow your feelings and listen to the latest doctrinal speculation or self-appointed prophet or teacher who comes along (1 Thessalonians 5:21)? Are you seeking first the Kingdom of God, or do you make other priorities more important in your life (Matthew 6:33)? Are you striving to grow close to God while He can be found, or are you putting off the most important decisions in life until later (Isaiah 55:6–9)? Are you eagerly anticipating and actively preparing for Christ’s return, or are you hoping for more time to enjoy the transient pleasures of this world? Jesus said that our treasure—our investment of money, time, and energy—will be found where our heart is (Matthew 6:19–21). We may fool others, but we do not fool God. The parable of the ten virgins makes it clear that we cannot make it into God’s Kingdom on another Christian’s effort. We must make the investment and effort ourselves!
Will You Be Ready?
The final lesson of the parable has to do with our state of readiness when Jesus returns. Those who are ready will be firstfruits. Those who are not ready will miss out, even though they hope to be included! So, how do we prepare for Christ’s return? Scripture tells us that the bride, preparing for the wedding, “made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7–9). She grew in her understanding of the truth, learned to live by every word of God, built strong and solid Christian character, overcame trials, remained faithful, and zealously endured to the end. She was ready when the bridegroom came. Those who follow this example will be brought into the wedding, after which the door will be shut.
Of course, there are those in the world who believe they will join Christ as His return, but they are mistaken and will be surprised. They may live lives doing what they think is “right,” but not doing what Jesus Christ instructed them to do (Matthew 7:21–23)! God commands us, for example, to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Jesus and the Apostles kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2), and it will be kept in the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 66:23). To those who ignore such commands in favor of their own ideas, Jesus will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They will not be invited to attend the wedding—because they will not be ready when the Bridegroom arrives. The door will be shut, and they will be left standing outside, pleading to be let in! The question we each need to ask is, Where will I be when the door is shut? Will I be seated inside with Jesus Christ, or will I be outside—disillusioned and disappointed?
The parable of the ten virgins gives us vital lessons not only on Pentecost, as we focus on God’s Spirit, but at any time—especially as Christ’s return draws near. God inspired these warnings for our benefit because He loves us and wants us to be among His firstfruits in the coming Kingdom of God. We must heed the warnings and learn the lessons of this important parable so we do not miss out on the wonderful reward God wants to give us!