1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’
7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’
12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
The lamps consisted of round receptacles for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer, which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, in which it was born aloft. — Gaebelein, page 529
Every one of my commentaries (except Pentecost) inexplicably and almost desperately attempts to apply this parable to the current church age even though the Lord clearly states in verse 1 that He’s referring to the kingdom of heaven, the Millennium. My guess is that most pastors and writers find that it gives them such a great opportunity to lecture their listeners and readers about being good that they just can’t bear not to use it. Of course, there is universal application here, but first and foremost, it’s important to find out what the passage actually means and to whom it is written.
Again, the Lord was talking to His disciples (Matthew 24:3), the men who will sit on twelve thrones in the kingdom (Matthew 19:28). He was in the process of explaining the coming prophetic program. In chapter 24, He took them through the Tribulation and His second coming at the end of that period. Then He began teaching them through parables the importance of being ready for the second coming and the kingdom that would immediately follow. The existence of the church hadn’t yet been revealed and the existence of a gap of time in the prophetic program hadn’t yet been revealed. In fact, the kingdom hadn’t even been offered yet! There is simply no honest, logical way to apply this directly and primarily to the church.
Pentecost is the only commentary I have that sees this. I wish he had gone into some more detail, but here’s what he has to say on this passage in its entirety.
Christ now resumed His revelation of the chronology of prophetic events for Israel. He taught that following His return (Matthew 24:30) and the regathering of the nation Israel to their land (v.31), the nation would be brought under judgment (25:1-30). Christ used two parables to teach that the regathered nation will be judged to determine who is saved and who is unsaved. The purpose of this judgment will be to exclude the unsaved from, and to receive the saved into, the kingdom that He will establish following His Second Advent. The first parable is that of the ten virgins (25:1-13). While Paul used the figure of a virgin in reference to the church (2 Corinthians 11:2), the Jewish context here shows that the church is not in view. Christ in His discourse was developing the eschatological program for the nation Israel. The parable was based on the marriage customs of our Lords’ day. Previous to the actual wedding, an invitation would be extended to those who were invited to the marriage feast. At the time for the banquet, a second invitation would be sent out announcing that the marriage feast was prepared. While the bridegroom sent for his bride so as to claim her as his own, the guests would assemble. The presentation of the bride to the bridegroom would be made in a private inner chamber. At the conclusion of the presentation ceremony, the assembled guests would eagerly await the appearance of the bridegroom with his bride. In the Lord’s parable ten virgins had been invited as guests and were awaiting the appearance of the bridegroom with his bride. The ten were divided into two groups. Jesus called one group foolish. The reason was that while they took lamps anticipating a possible delay in the appearance of the bridegroom, they did not take any extra oil so their lamps could be kept burning if there was a delay in his appearance. The wise not only took lamps but, anticipating a possible delay, took extra oil so that their lamps could be replenished and thus kept burning. The bridegroom was delayed and the ten fell asleep. And in the middle of the night, they were suddenly awakened from their sleep. It was announced that the bridegroom had returned, and now they were expected to meet him to welcome him and his bride. The lamps of the foolish virgins had gone out, and they were unprepared to meet the bridegroom. They sought oil for their lamps, but it was too late to obtain oil because the bridegroom had come.
The foolishness of the five virgins thus consisted, not (as is commonly supposed) in their want of perseverance — as if the oil had been consumed before the bridegroom came, and they had only not provided themselves with a sufficient extra-supply — but in the entire absence of personal preparation, having brought no oil of their own in their lamps.
The five who had prepared themselves for the delay could light their lamps and welcome the bridegroom because they were prepared. “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 25:10). The appearance of the bridegroom terminated the time of opportunity to prepare to meet him. After the prepared virgins were admitted to the wedding banquet “the door was shut.” When the unprepared virgins returned and sought admittance, they were rejected because they were unprepared and were not watching.
In this parable Christ taught that during the interval in which He will be absent, those who anticipate His coming should be prepared and should be watching. His return will terminate the opportunity for people to prepare themselves to enter the millennial kingdom, and only the prepared will be accepted. No unsaved (unprepared) person will be admitted into Christ’s millennial kingdom. This is made very clear in Psalm 24, which tells of pilgrims proceeding to Jerusalem for a festival. They are seen approaching the city with the hope that they might on that occasion meet Messiah and welcome Him to His kingdom. But as they proceed, some ask, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?” (Psalm 24:3), that is, who will be accepted into Messiah’s kingdom? Others give the answer, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (v.4). Thus only the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8). — Pentecost, pages 407-408.
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