It has always been a nagging question in the backstage of my mind, when I ponder the lesson of the parable about the ten virgins who are bridesmaids in the wedding story that Jesus told in Matthew 25:1-13. For a quick review, here is that passage (NKJV):
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’
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. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
In the context preceding and following this parable are two other parables, all dealing with the faithfulness of a good servant. The preceding parable is the one of the ten talents (Matthew 24:45-51), and it springs out of several references to the admonition to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, as Matthew 24:44 warns: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The parable following that of the ten virgins or bridesmaids is announced in this way at Matthew 25:14:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.”
It likewise deals with faithful and unfaithful servants. Throughout the whole context is the admonition to be faithful to one’s stewardship of responsibility before the Lord and of the uncertainty of the time of His coming. Within the context in chapters 24 and 25, we are given tips as to the “times and seasons” of His coming, as in Matthew 24:32-34, where He presents a parable of the fig tree:
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
Preceding that was the listing of events that would occur in the season of His coming, both having to do with His coming for His church at the Rapture and His coming to reign on earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. (The declaration in Matthew 24:31 is often claimed as support that this is a reference to the Rapture by the post-Tribulation believers.) “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Please note, however, that the elect are gathered from the breadth of heaven, not the earth. The fact that the elect are scattered across heaven indicates, too, that they did not just then arise in a post-Tribulation Rapture and meet the Lord in the air to return with Him to the earth. Interesting, isn’t it, how a close inspection of the Holy Writ answers so many nagging questions with clarity and common sense.)
Now let’s go to the matter of the ten virgins or bridesmaids and their situation. The setting of the parable is a traditional Jewish betrothal and wedding. The issue is the spiritual well-being of the bridesmaids, for five ended up with oil for their lamps while the other five did not.
Some finer points of doctrine are hinted at in the passage, too. Note that “they all slumbered and slept”, even those who had oil for their lamps, so they apparently were no more faithful to their stewardship responsibilities as those who were foolish. Therefore, it appears that the only reason they were allowed into the wedding ceremony was because they had oil.
See what that implies? If oil is a representative of the Holy Spirit, then their “salvation” did not depend on their works at all. They were as unfaithful as those without oil. And note further, they could not share their oil with the foolish ones. Thus, personal salvation is an individual matter—no other human can provide it for me.
Some other facts to consider are that the bridesmaids are not the bride; they are to attend to the bride and prepare her for the coming wedding, making sure she is a worthy bride-to-be, in purity and faithfulness. The future husband has gone away to prepare a place for his bride and will return at some unknown future time.
When the groom returns, he does not come for the bridesmaids, but the bride. So the analogy that this is mainly an illustration of the Rapture is not the purpose of the parable at all. It has to do with the faithfulness of the bridesmaids to their assigned duties. Elements of the Rapture in the framework of the traditional Jewish wedding arrangement, but the emphasis is upon the bridesmaids, not the bride.
The parable is an analogy of how the kingdom of heaven works, as it says in the beginning of the story: “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1). In the analogy, the bridegroom is the Lord; the bride is the church. Who, then, are the bridesmaids? They are the called servants of the Lord
who are to minister to the church until He comes again for them. As the parable finishes, some of the bridesmaids are also included in the church, but some are not. That seems to be the point of the parable—the need to be a true servant of God, not a fake, or even a true servant, but unfaithful.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-16:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Before we lay any blame at the feet of any church leaders, let’s note that the broad expanse of Scripture points to the fact that all believers are entrusted with a stewardship of the gospel to the unsaved and the saved: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Psalm 107:2), and “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
I heard one new believer say, in respect to his sense of value in a small group Bible study, “A good way to help new Christians stand up for Christ is to lean them against each other!” Not a bad idea, that one.
With the bride identified as the church, this passage in Ephesians clearly summarizes the duties of the leading “bridesmaids” who are the servants to the bride. As the end of the age approaches, Paul also writes that there will come a “falling away” (2 Thessalonians 2:3)of faithfulness to the Lord, indicating that some of those servants who have “oil in their lamps” will have become like those in the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-17):
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—.”
These characterizations are not unlike the patterns displayed in those parables in Matthew 24 and 25. John goes on to record what Jesus really desires of these unfaithful ones, in verse 18:
“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
In respect to those who are following a false doctrine and teaching others likewise, I am reminded of the admonition of Jesus at Matthew 5:19:
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Therefore, it remains upon all those in the body of Christ, the true believers, to follow the instruction Paul gave Timothy:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
If one who poses as a servant of God, yet has no “oil in his lamp,” that is, he has never received Christ into his life and thereby received the Spirit of God into his life, he is facing the sure expose’ of that pseudo-righteousness and those awesome words, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you!”