We have had several requests of late to give our views on the parable of the ten virgins; and such as we have, we freely give, with the hope that it may be in a measure blessed to the reader, and as well extoll the glory of the Lord of this, and all parables. Knowing that some of our dear brethren differ with us on this parable causes us to be temperate in our approach; yet we must be honest in our presentation, with the hope that none who love the truth, as they are taught of the Lord, will take offense.
This popular, but abused parable is one of three found in Matthew 25, embracing the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and that of the sheep and the goats. According to our limited ability, we shall give our view of what this parable sets forth on a verse by verse analysis, with the hope that the reader can follow our humble effort.
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom."
The first word which commands our attention is "Then". In opening this subject the Lord directs the hearer to a future time described as "Then." We say future because He says, "Then shall" and not "Then Was," or "Now is." At that particular time the Lord referred to He declared the kingdom of heaven would be likened unto a small band of virgins setting out on a journey. We are fully convinced in viewing this parable in its context that its message refers to the end time. The end time will be when our Lord draweth nigh to gather together His elect; when He shall come to call all them that make up His bride to their heavenly home. Nothing in the text would suggest that the time referred to is the destruction of Jerusalem in A D. 70, or for that matter the dispersion of the Jews because of their disbelief, though there may be some similarities. There are those no-table persons with respected credentials that claim near Divine Wisdom when it comes to un- raveling hard texts, that differ with us widely on this parable. However, we believe in the light of such things as our Lord set forth in this and other chapters, that this is the proper understanding of "Then", and the time frame it covers.
The next word which commands our attention is "shall". "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened..." Arminians and free-willers alike may murmur and complain at our understanding of the "wills" and "shalls" in the Bible. However, all those who are taught of the Spirit of God take great comfort in knowing that every word is vital and important, and nothing was placed in the text to fill up space.
There is no question that it shall be this way for the Lord has so said. It shall be. It is not that it might be, or that it possibly could be, or that the Lord would like for things to be this way, but when He returns, the kingdom of heaven "shall" be likened unto ten virgins. The hungry and thirsty little ones of the flock rejoice to read and hear about the blessed "wills and shalls" that go forth from the mouth of the Lord, for they are meat and drink to their souls, and they are no less interested in the one in this text than those elsewhere. They are all alike comforting to true believers. So let there be no confusion here. The Saviour said "Then shall the kingdom be likened unto..." So shall it be. And what comfort could one possibly glean from the Word of God if they had no certainty that what the Lord said would indeed come to pass? Without the certainty of His immutable "Wills and Shalls" none of us could view this or any other prophesy with much more than a casual interest at best.
The next expression is "the kingdom of heaven". This expression is practically unique to the gospel according to Matthew, and is found there 33 times, and nowhere in the other gospels. This alone sets it apart as clearly different from the kingdom of God, although the difference itself is not so clear. The kingdom of heaven is mentioned often in the various parables, and we are persuaded that it embraces the mixture of both the professing Christians and those who truly possess the life which comes with being born again. They all gather together as His church on earth. Each one is going forth to meet the Bridegroom, and they everyone hold a lamp in their hand. There are those in this virgin band who possess the truth and life from the Spirit of God, and there are those who only profess to do so. Such we believe is the division in this parable, and any other interpretation raises more questions than it answers. Some may wish to compare "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew with the expression "the kingdom of God" in the other gospels. Nevertheless, be advised of the uniqueness of the expression the "kingdom of heaven" as it is restricted to this book. The "kingdom of heaven" was likened unto something. The Lord compared the kingdom of heaven to something very specific, and in this case it was the ten virgins.
"Ten virgins" only. This appears to show the smallness of the number of followers in the kingdom when He returns to gather together His elect children. There were only ten with a lamp of profession who were going forth to meet Him. No more and no less. While we do not believe the word ten here is a fixed number denoting a specific figure, any more than the "cattle on a thousand hills" is an exact amount, or other numerical expressions are absolute, it does here and elsewhere set forth a figure, or a type which we would do well to view with diligence.
In this case, the Lord likened the kingdom of heaven to "virgins". Conditionalists, and assorted other work-mongers (along with some honest believers) attempt to describe this parable as all being God's children, half obedient, and half disobedient, because, as they say, they were all described as virgins. However, any careful reader of the Old and New Testament will soon see that the word "virgin" was used to describe many who were not God's children. We shall not take up these examples at this time, but rather suggest that the reader inquire for himself. It would be well to point out too that one could be a natural virgin and yet still be unclean within. For it is not the outward conduct or acts that makes one defiled, but rather the heart, and a virgin could be as fully corrupted in their heart and thoughts as the most wicked fornicator. The obvious meaning here is that all these in the text were denominated virgins because of their following the Lord to the expected wedding feast.
These ten virgins took their "lamps," which we have previously stated sets forth the profession of all these that went out to meet the Bridegroom. As our Lord on one occasion said, "Let your lights so shine that men may see your good works." The lamp was the object of light, and thus these were lighted as they went forth.
While they were going forth they all seemed to be equally desirous of meeting the Bridegroom. Thus they journey together in the walk and conduct of all those who make a profession of belief in the Redeemer. They were alike active, at least at the outset, and the going forth of the foolish seemed as sincere as the wise. They appeared to be alike eager to finish their journey. They went forth in order to approach Him at the finish, or so it seemed up to that point.
Now comes the great division: not made by us, but written under the direction of the Spirit of God Himself. "And five of them were wise, and five were foolish." Anyone who has even a casual understanding of the usage of the terms "wise" and "foolish" in the scriptures will know that consistently the wise were those who had been given understanding through God's grace, and the foolish, like the fool who said "there is no God," were those who knew not God, nor had tasted His grace. Multiplied numbers of texts could set this forth, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, but we shall forbear, using only a few. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that harkeneth unto counsel is wise." Provo 12:15 "A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool."Prov.17:10 "The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools. Prov. 3:35 Viewing such texts as these, there seems to be little doubt the wise were those born of God, and the foolish were not. It was not because they acted wise or acted foolish respectively, but because they were wise (by God's grace) and were foolish (not having the gift of grace) that they were denominated wise or foolish. The foolish were described as having taken their lamps, but alas, they "took no oil with them." Again, we hesitate not to say that the use of the word "oil" is too clear and too plain for those who have eyes to see to be mistaken here. It is symbolical of the Spirit of God. The wise went along with the foolish; the foolish went along with the wise. These five foolish however, had no oil; none at all!! They had nothing with which to sustain a lamp of profession to the end. Did not our Lord say on one occasion that "He that endureth to the end shall be saved"? They had nothing other than an empty lamp, and without oil to feed their temporal flame, all of their boasting, all of their effort, and all of their intentions were to avail them nothing. For, without the oil of the Spirit, their lamps could not shine, and the luster and glory of the cause of Christ, which they claimed to possess, would be extinguished at the time of testing.
"But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." The difference between the wise the foolish seems to plainly hang on this one point. The wise had oil and took it. The foolish, despite their apparent good beginning, had no oil thus they could not take it on this venture. The oil of the wise was "in their vessels." And, so we learn from the Apostle Paul that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, and it is with the believer at the outset, and will sustain the light of life until the end. And so our lamps will burn, not by creature effort, but by grace.
We read in Proverbs 13:9 concerning this that, "The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out." Several things are worthy of our consideration there. The righteous, who are the wise, have a light, and they are made to rejoice in it. On the other hand, the wicked's lamp shall be put out. Notice that it does not say that their lamp will just simply go out, but it shall be put out. We believe from our hearts that God Himself will extinguish the lamp of the wicked. The lamp of the wise, however, will burn in the hour of testing, for the Lord Himself is their light; but the lamp of the foolish will be snuffed out, world without end. And thus we see there the scriptural parallel, that the one (the wise) is described as righteous, and the other (the fool) is described as wicked. Words certainly could not be plainer as we follow the intent of the Lord's meaning in Matthew 25.
We find as well in Proverbs 20:20, "Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness." We well understand from this that the Arminian, like the foolish virgin, whether openly or secretly, would curse his Father in heaven for the doctrines of election, and predestination, and despise the true Mother, the Church, and ridicule her for her old fashioned manner. Did not Hagar and Ishmael do the same? Sara, the figure of Jerusalem above, was despised by the bondmaid and her mocking offspring, and thus Abram thrust them out. Even so will the God of Heaven and earth put the lamp of the fool out in obscure darkness, where there will be gnashing of teeth, wailing, and bitter lamentations forevermore. And another text from Proverbs is chapter 21, verse 20, "There is a treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up." Certainly this seems to point directly to the message in our text that the great treasure is the same as we referred to earlier, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." It is oil that dwells within the wise, but the foolish, (the foolish virgins) in true workmonger fashion spendeth it up. That which they seemeth to have is soon gone, and then they are destitute and wanting.
One further text from the Old Testament: Isaiah 62:1, "For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as bright- ness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." Certainly Zion and Jerusalem are words we understand in their spiritual sense, both referring to the Church redeemed by blood. In them God is seen blessing the citizens thereof that they might go forth in the brightness and light of Christ their Saviour. Also the will of God is displayed in preserving the great salvation of His children that it may be sustained as a burning lamp that is never extinguished there is no indication here whatever that the Lord will be stirred for the foolish. As their lamps go out it is a clear indication that Jehovah will suffer them to retire in darkness. Thus, those whose lamps burn with oil, the wise, go forth; the foolish, whose lamps go out, are found destitute. This then is the great work the Lord predestinated from before the world to accomplish in behalf of His little ones, and not the foolish.
"They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them." There may be some that would say that the poor foolish things simply forgot their oil, or that they were just negligent. We disagree. There never was a possibility that the foolish could take oil with them, for they at no time had any. There was no possibility that they could have made such provisions for themselves, for God had never been pleased to grant them the oil of joy for their lamps. Not one word in the text suggests that the foolish virgins ever at any time had a trace of oil. They had a lamp; they had a flicker of light for a brief period until God put it out. They had the company of the wise; but they never had oil! And thus as they go, they go without oil, no doubt never realizing what danger they were in. It cannot be overstated that the difference between the wise and foolish virgins was the oil. "But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." And so, we find here that great and eternal difference which forever separates the virgins. Five took oil, and five did not. It will never do for any to suggest that the five foolish could have taken oil with them if they wanted to. We could as easily prove that Ishmael could have been the son of Sara had he wished to. Or that Herod could have loved John the Baptist rather than hating him. Such reasoning belongs in the camp of free-will speculation. These foolish virgins never knew the need or value of oil, for they were strangers to the Divine plan. Thus they proceed in abject ignorance to the one thing needful to a successful completion of their journey while the wise, on the other hand, go secure, for they have oil.
"While the bridegroom tamed, they all slumbered and slept." It was ever the purpose of the bridegroom to tarry, and not apprise the wise and the foolish virgins of His coming until the midnight hour. His coming was a long ways off, and the senses of the virgins became dull. So we read too in Matthew 24 of that evil servant saying, "My lord delayeth his coming." He knew somewhat of these things, and so attempted to take the advantage. But in the tarrying of the Lord, the wise and the foolish virgins all slumbered and slept until the midnight cry was heard. Thus we believe we have here the sad condition of the professing church, with its mixture of the true and false believers in it at this very time. We dare not make excuses for the wise, for they have been exhorted to "awake, thou that sleepeth". The Divine Word has already censured them. We attempt not to condemn the foolish more than the wise either, for it plainly says they all slumbered and slept. It was at the tarrying of the Lord that they fell into their slumber. He was a long time coming, and so human nature acted out its lamentable condition.
"And at midnight there was a cry made." We feel the term midnight is of great significance here, for as we understand the reckoning of time, midnight is the close of one day, and the beginning of another. Midnight signifies that the gospel day has concluded, and the endless day is beginning. When the Son of Righteousness rose with healing in His wings it marked the beginning of the gospel day, and when the midnight cry is sounded that day will end there might be some who would disagree, and contend that the Jewish day started at a different time, and so it did. But we are not here dealing with Jewish matters, but rather, the Gentile church with its mixture of real and false professors. And so midnight came. The ordained cry was made. Someone uttered the momentous message "Behold the Bridegroom cometh" and so He did. The imperative message contained in the cry was also, "Go ye out to meet him." The instructions were not, "come", for the Bridegroom was not speaking. There is a great similarity in this message and the one John the Baptist uttered when the Lord first approached: "Behold the Lamb of God." Now, at the close of time the Lamb returns for His bride, and the midnight cry is made. How joyous it shall be for all those who possess the oil-fed lamp to hear these words, "Your Bridegroom comes". That will be the fulfillment of all their hopes.
So then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamp. One was as busy as the other. They all continued with the pursuit of making preparation, though it was at a perilously late time. But something terrible and drastic occurred with the foolish. That which they probably never dreamed of had now plunged them into a panic. They had no light in their lamps, and all their Arminian boasting is now useless. Darkness surrounded the empty professors. So where did they turn? "And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out." Certainly as we have read, the lamp of the wicked shall be put out. They said it had gone out, but according to our Lord's plain message, it had been put out. "Give us of your oil..." they begged of the wise. All else failing, the foolish virgins now take up the language of grace. "Give us", was their plaintiff plea; little knowing that the Lord alone could give what is needed for an audience with the Bridegroom. The wise, being little better in knowledge at that time than the foolish, instructed them to go to those who sell to buy for themselves. We will pass by any comments on their attitude and understanding here by saying that probably at the last time the understanding of God's children will be no better than what we discover here in these verses.
And what did the foolish do? They went out to buy. This comported with their doctrine and their practice. They had little enough sense to leave just as the Bridegroom approached, and thus they went out to hustle up oil in religions markets. The foolish set out to buy for themselves, as if they could appropriate oil with money, and secure its benefits with the price of silver and gold. Such things as were needful to stand in the company of the great Bridegroom were nothing but items of barter to them. We believe it to be the gravest error to suggest that these foolish virgins were God's disobedient children. Everything in the text indicates they were destitute of the oil of the Spirit, and "if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Rom.8:9
"And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage." What terrible words are these for those who have no oil. They were in one place, and the Bridegroom was in another. But blessed event for the wise! They were ready, and went in with Him to the marriage. Notice well, the words, "They that were ready". What made them ready? Their activities? Their usefulness? Their diligence? No, none of these things. Their readiness was simply that they possessed oil in their vessels with their lamps. Those who were not ready were not ready because they had no oil. It is important to see too that nowhere in the Bible is there any instructions to "get ready." The Saviour taught His disciples about "being ready;" which is a work of grace, but not a word about "getting ready." And so those that were ready went in and the door was shut. What awful doom this will be when at that last day when the door is shut by Him of whom it is said, "He shutteth and no man openeth; and he openeth and no man shutteth."
"Afterward came also the other virgins." Notice that awful word, "afterward". It was too late. They came afterward. They were described as the "other virgins"; not those of the elect, but others. The difference was as old as eternity. And what was the language of the foolish? "Lord, Lord, open to us." "Not everyone that sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" is our Lord's clear rebuke in another place. But they cry out, "Lord, Lord, open to us" little knowing that the time was spent, and the day was closed. Yes, the door was shut; never to be opened unto them. And the Lord's language, clear, plain, and emphatic, was "I know you not." Can we think of anything more terrible to be said to a poor sinner than that the Lord said? "I know you not." We do not believe all the contrivances of arminianism combined could ever make these words anything other than the Lord intended. He who changes not knew them not because He never knew them.
Volumes more might be said here, but we feel that sufficient has been said to establish the clear direction of this parable. Should any take offense, we confess we intended none.
Volume 5, No. 1
January - February, 1991